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Remembered Today:

Derek Black

Frank Richards (Old Soldiers Never Die & Old Soldier Sahib)

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Derek Black

I recently acquired both these books by Frank Richards DCM MM (via a forum member Muerrish).

Although outside my usual sphere of interest regarding memoirs, I have to say they are excellent reads, I'm glad I took the chance on getting them.
So if you've held back I'd put them on your shopping list, you'll not regret it.

Derek.

Edited by Derek Black

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tullybrone

Have you read the “raw material” for the potential third book about his WW2 Home Guard experiences shared on the forum by Grumpy a couple of years ago?

 

If not well worth a read.

 

Steve

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Derek Black

No, I must have missed that post.

I'll go hunting for it now.

 

Thanks.

Derek.

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Muerrisch
Just now, Derek Black said:

No, I must have missed that post.

I'll go hunting for it now.

 

Thanks.

Derek.

 

I confessed after I ran the series of chapters that I was the author, writing as best I could in Frank's style. I was convinced from the outset that nobody would believe the tall stories were really by Frank, and I became embarrassed by the popularity of the anecdotes.

I suppose, in my defence, having edited the books, and having had all of Frank's letters to Robert Graves to hand, I was as well placed as any to write "Old Soldier Indeed".

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The Scorer

Well, I was fooled, and I enjoyed being fooled … they were excellent!

 

:D

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seaJane

And I'm enjoying Old Soldier Sahib - Never Die is a pleasure to come :)

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Muerrisch

Old Soldier Indeed

 

a pastiche in fond recall of Frank Richards DCM MM RWF

 

 

I blame Hitler and Robert Graves.  Hitler for starting the war, Robert Graves for starting me off thinking that my country might need me, and then later for nagging me into taking up my pencil again. One thing Robert had taught me, and that was paragraphs, which I must say does improve the look of the thing.

 

I had not been married long when it was clear there would be another war, a real war other than the usual marital skirmishes.  We were living in Nantyglo at the time, and my little girl Margaret was a noisy toddler, a bit too boisterous for a man nearly 60 and thinking of retirement.  I was better off than I had ever been, what with my books selling well and a steady and pensionable clerking job down at the Labour.  So war was a bad thought, and I remembered the lice and the mud of the Great War more than anything.

 

I was far too old to be called up, and not fit, what with rheumatism and the piles, but fit enough to get out to the pub.  We didn’t use the Castle Inn any more, after the Sproules sold up it wasn’t what it used to be, but we had a little snug corner in another pub where the old servicemen used to sit and smoke over a game of dominoes.  I had got into the habit of reading my letters over a pint of neck oil, it being quieter than at home.  So there was this letter from Robert, all foreign stamps on it, he used to write several times a year.  He was on about how he had been taken on for the Officer Emergency Reserve, and how every patriotic Englishman should see what he could do.  That let me out nicely, being Welsh.

 

But one of my mates, he served with me in the old Second Battalion, and was now a groom for a nice family [I still can’t remember his name], he was going on about the Local Defence Volunteers.  That would be in May 1940, after Anthony Eden made his speech on the radio for men between seventeen and sixty five to come forward.  The constable was taking names of volunteers, although what a bunch of old men and boys with no whiskers could be doing around Blaina and Nantyglo was not clear, not then and not later either.  I didn’t say much, people knew I had been in the war, got a couple of medals and wrote a couple of books, but was not keen at all to get involved all over again.

 

It was Colonel Kirkby persuaded me.  He was now a JP and a Lieutenant for Merioneth, and was rushing around Wales organising everybody, much like he always did in the Great War, only now even bigger and more full of himself.  He nearly ran me over as I was crossing the road on my way home.  I had had a few, and I wasn’t seeing too well, and what with the blackout, and his car being black, well I did a good swear at the driver and he wound down his window and there he was.  “Dick!” he said, “I’d recognise you anywhere!”.  So back in the pub we went, he sat me down, and it was him doing all the talking and me thinking I still wasn’t going to call him ‘Sir’ if I could avoid it.

 

The long and the short of it was he said men like me would be needed to lick the volunteers into shape, and no argument would stop him. I said I would more like lead them into mischief, but he said no, not if you were an NCO.  Having never ever held rank and never wanted to, this was the last straw, and I said so.  After a couple more tots I found myself a full sergeant and woke up next day wondering what I had let myself in for.

 

Several weeks went by, and I was beginning to think I had dreamed it, and then a letter arrived addressed to Sergeant F. Richards which my wife Mary picked up from the mat.  She did a good laugh, but then I had to explain and she did a good cry.  I hadn’t worn uniform since the day I was made to go down the photo shop and put on a borrowed tunic with my medals on.  That would be about 1923, I’d been out for years, but some medals arrived registered post and my landlady Mrs Pratten would have me wear them and a snap taken.  No uniform trousers, just an old service dress jacket with strange shoulder straps, one that the photographer kept along with other bits and pieces.  When two more medals arrived the next year I drew the line at that and never had a photo taken with them all.

 

The letter said I was to report the next Saturday, only a few of us, what they call a cadre.  Nine o’clock sharp at the Drill Hall, Pontypridd, although why they had to drag us there when we all lived local I don’t know.  Paid our fares at any rate.  We were all curious to see who the officer would be, and it turned out I knew him after a fashion, and not in a good way.

 

We were to do the recruiting, so we had to have the first uniforms, and it felt strange after all those years, but the equipment was all the old leather which was very heavy and hadn’t seen the light of day since 1914.  No rifles of course, they came later.  There was a public meeting arranged so that Colonel Kirkby and the local MP could talk some men into volunteering, and a promise of refreshments, but when the evening arrived there had been a box up, and the meeting room had been double- booked.

 

Gladys Roberts, the President of the local Women’s Institute was a buxom and loud lady, and, patriotic duty or not, she said the WI met there once a month without fail, and it was her night.  Colonel Kirkby had come a long way to speak, and the MP [like all MP’s I suppose] couldn’t be stopped talking, so we had our meeting one end of the hall, and they had theirs at the other.  It was never going to work, and each meeting got louder and louder to be heard above the other.  My job was to get the men’s details so we could write to them and so they could be called out.   Most of them I knew, which was just as well as you could hardly hear their names.  The meetings, both meetings, broke up in a scuffle when some of the women [I cannot call them ladies] started throwing scraps of food down our end.  Our refreshments hadn’t turned up, so the lads were catching the buns and whatever and eating them, which didn’t go down at all well with the old women.  In the crush the MP fell down the stairs but came to no harm as he fell on Kirkby.  We were glad to escape with our lives that night.

 

Our first drill night.

At our first drill there were just over 20 of us, hardly a platoon, all shapes and sizes, no men of military age of course, and a few were just boys.  We still had no weapons so we drilled with broomsticks.  Our officer was all for fixing carving knives on them, like bayonets, but there was a lot of muttering and he gave up the idea before someone was stabbed to death.  As it was, old Williams the Post gave his ear a nasty whack trying to slope arms, which did nothing for his deafness but did at least give a boy the chance to practise Boy Scout first aid.

 

We still didn’t know what it was we had to protect, and we still had nowhere fixed to meet, so it was all over the place and we were getting despondent.  Dunkirk changed all that, suddenly anyone with half an eye could imagine the Germans coming up Blaina High Street any minute.  We got our rifles all right then, and very good, nearly new, they were.  The proper service rifle.  As I had been a marksman all my service [except one year when I had a dull head on the classification, through drinking all night with Gerald Weston and Victor Ward in India] it fell to me to teach them one end of the rifle from the other.  Where to shoot was another problem, the constable would not hear of it near the towns, so we went up the mountain which was not easy for the older men.  They were still breathing hard after ten minutes rest at the top, which did nothing for their shooting.

 

Five rounds each we had and it was a good thing the target was big.  I set up a piece of corrugated iron, a bit of hill behind it, made a good clang on the odd occasion someone hit it.  Riddled it was not.  I was pleasantly surprised when my turn came, but I could see I was never going to get back to 15 or more aimed shots in a minute.  On the way back down, Moses Solomons the pawnbroker pretended to shoot a cow, and did, a flesh wound.  We were rightly put on a charge, him for negligent discharge, me for not checking ammunition and rifles properly.  There was not much of anything they could do to Moses, but I lost a stripe for several weeks, just as I was getting used to them.

 

Church Parade

Our officer, the one I did not like, was a religious man in addition to his other faults, and he came up with the idea of a Church Parade.  In my old battalion the only reason anyone went voluntarily was to avoid something worse, and there were few things reckoned worse.  So he gave orders to attend.  Well, the men split in twos and threes to say they belonged to either St Peter’s Church of Wales, or one or other of the Baptist chapels [one of them with services in Welsh], Calvinistic, one of the three Congregationals, a Presbyterian, a Primitive Methodist and one of two Weslyan.  So they said they could only go to their own or be excommunicated or whatever.  Not to be beaten, the officer said fair enough, we shall visit each in turn, God will understand.  We were outflanked, so we settled for a single trip to St Peter’s.

The officer could not lay his hands on a proper band to do honour to the occasion but managed to organise a Boys’ Brigade Corps of Drums, bugles and fifes who could play a few decent tunes. It being a Sunday there was no strong drink to be had, but their drum-major, a portly middle-aged man, had a hip flask to settle his nerves, and indulged whilst waiting for the kick-off. He had a nasty limp and his lads said he had knelt on a drawing pin as a boy. Jenkins saw him taking a nip and spun him the old yarn about the famous drum-major of a Volunteer Force band in Middlesex who could toss his mace over a railway bridge and catch it on the other side. Shovelgob pointed out we had a very little easy bridge to practice on, so the fool finished his flask off and fell the band in.

Sure enough, as the band reached the little footbridge joining the Works to its stores and offices, up went the mace, high in the sky. It did not return. So there was the leader, arm outstretched, eyes like Chapel hat pegs, and no mace. The band parted in panic like the Red Sea, but neither them nor us behind were in any danger. Corporal Jenkins lost the step through laughing and couldn’t get a word of command out, and our officer, strutting right at the front, saw and knew nothing of the matter. And, as if pierced by the mace, the heavens opened.

The Twenty of us, soaking wet, crowded in the back of the church, the regular congregation all looking and pointing.  To liven things up we had arranged a sweepstake on the length of the sermon, but the longest time offered was a bit hopeful, thirty minutes, although that was the winner when the Padre sat down after 40 minutes.  What he found to say for 40 minutes no one knew.  John Bainton, whose family run a shop and were well off, had a stopwatch, he was the official timekeeper and was not allowed to compete, but he fell asleep and the man on his left had to keep giving us the time by craning his neck.  By the time we got outside for the payout, our clothes had dried on us, only to get soaked again before we were dismissed.

 

Exercise

The time came when we had to be put through our paces, and it was decided that we would be part of the defending force in an exercise on the Beacons.  The enemy were the new-fangled Commandos, Churchill had dreamed them up, and they were reckoned to be red hot.  I decided that I would surrender early on if they got too rough.  Mind you, German Commandos would have got a fight out of me, no mistake.

 

We were two big sections: a section of seven or eight men is handy, a dozen is too big for one NCO.  Lance Corporal Shovelgob Jenkins commanded one, and me the other.  Shovelgob had an old soldier’s medal ribbons, but he never let on which regiment and it was certainly not mine.  I think he got not much further than Calais in the last go.  He also got a disability pension for his jaw, which he might have worn out talking for all I know.  He could talk for Wales, and drink, and eat, although if he shouted or spoke too quick his dentures went out of control and spray flew everywhere.  The mouth opened and shut, but the teeth usually stayed clamped. The Exercise was over a weekend, because most of us had jobs, and, as it was, a lot of us even had trouble with Saturdays.  They took us out in a lorry on the Friday evening and dumped us in a barn with two days rations and blank ammunition.  When the officer took Shovelgob’s section out to put them in position, I went along to see the way for later when we relieved at dawn stand-to.  It was pitch black by the time we arrived and the section was posted to defend a long stone wall, with some other Home Guard units on each flank.  The LDV had become the Home Guard by then.

 

The weather was typical for the Beacons, so Jenkins’s lot never saw hair nor hide of the enemy.  Perhaps they had been given a different start day, to soften us up.  Before dawn I went up with my dozen, the officer in front with map and compass, which we always said in the old Second Battalion was a terrifying sight, as you knew he would get lost.  Or worse.  This dawn he was just for ornament, as I knew the way.  When we approached, we could tell by the smell where they were, rotten it was, and reminded me of something.  When we could see, Jenkins’s lot were covered in dark smelly smears and lumps which turned out to be sheep tods.  Worse, they had eaten their rations with this stuff on their hands.  I said that if they had stood to their posts like men the worse they would have was dirty boots.  My section did a good grin, some were nearly wetting their pants, but Shovelgob had a face like thunder and his men said they felt sick and were all for falling out there and then.

 

We relieved them, and we cleaned up all along the wall as best we could.  The sheep had used the wall as shelter and as a latrine, of course.  We too never saw an enemy all day, not until the next dawn, and even then the main attack went in on our left flank, in mist and drizzle so we heard rather than saw, and nobody got bashed that I knew of.

 

When we got back to the barn, who should turn up to inspect us but Brigadier Charlie Owen, who was my old adjutant in 1914.  His language, always enough to make a sailor blush, had not got any more genteel, and he gave Jenkins’s section a blast.  Swearing like he could is not something you get easily, he must have worked at it, or had a good teacher.  He recognised me, and said I had lasted better than him, which was true because he was very thin and lined, and was not seeing too well.  I never saw him again, but by God he was a good brave professional soldier.

 

Real enemies

The only Germans I saw during the war dropped in one Saturday night.  Any other day of the week we would have missed them, but we usually went from Drill night to the pub, and that Saturday was no exception.  In burst a little bloke “There’s German parachutists coming down Church Street!” he shouts, and bunks off.  I was the senior man [our officer rarely drank, and didn’t mix] and I thought we were in trouble,  rifles and bayonets but no bullets.  So I went to order them into the street, but they were outside before I drew breath, and Shovelgob lost his top set in the rush, trod into the flagstones outside the door.

 

Sure enough, three big Germans were standing in the moonlight, in sort of overalls and little skull caps and what looked like pistols on their belts.  They took one look and ran [Shovelgob without teeth was enough to frighten a lion] and we were straight after them.  None of us had much more German to speak than ‘Hande hoch!’ although the officer had tried to teach us the seventeen common expressions that were issued for us to learn.  This shouting cut no ice, and even if they had understood Welsh German, you cannot run quick with your hands up.

 

We began to straggle and lag behind as they went up the hill road, they were younger than most and fitter than all, and we were slowed down by waving bayonets and shouting.  Shovelgob shouted louder than most, angry that his teeth had perished due to enemy action, our first casualty of the war in a manner of speaking.  We all ran out of steam, both sides, just beyond the last houses.  We were wary of their pistols [although they were not waving pistols around] and they did not fancy cold steel, so we surrounded them at long pistol shot and we stared at each other.  This could have gone on for a long time, but the constable appeared, pushing his bike as usual.  He only ever rode it downhill, and used it mostly to lean on otherwise.  Well, he went straight up to Fritz, bold as brass, and started a conversation in German, fluent as far as any of us could tell.  You don’t expect your policeman to speak German and we never did find out how he got hold of it.  Not much chance of practise in the valleys, either. The three were airmen, shot down [no one ever found the plane in the mountains] and had slung their pistols away as soon as they came down.  Naturally, they had thought we were going to kill them, so they must have been relieved when the worst they got was a kick or two from Jenkins to avenge his choppers.  We marched them to the police station, and by the time they got there they were shivering, having lost much of their clothes and kit as souvenirs.  Being senior, I got a flying-helmet, and Margaret often wore it round the house, till it slipped over her eyes and she ran into a wall. How that was my fault I never found out, but it was.

We all had to sign a secret chitti not to talk, and the raid never got in the papers which was disappointing.

 

Deaths

The Home Guard had a lot of old boys so it was natural that a few would peg out from time to time. Our platoon did one military funeral, but it was not for one of us. The neighbouring platoon lost a man, and we were asked to help out because he was very well liked and his comrades were afraid that grief would spoil the ceremonial. We provided a six-man bearer party and four to fire the three shots over the grave, me to command one and Jenkins the other. We had done a rehearsal using an empty coffin and empty rifles before we heard the dead man’s name, and that made the hairs on my neck stand up. I expect I went white. It was the man I had known and liked so well in India and never knew he was living a few miles from me all these years. The stories we could have told over a beer or two! And now he was gone, and that settled it. I could no more command the bearers with my old comrade in the box than fly to the moon, so I took command of the firing party. It went as well as could be expected, we fired the three volleys of the Holy Trinity, and the regiment had sent a proper drummer to sound the Last Post.

I had trouble sleeping for a few nights; his death hit me harder than some of the ones in the Great War.

In the summer of 1943 a friend sent me bad news in a cutting from the Daily Telegraph reporting that David Graves, Robert’s eldest son was missing in action. He died in circumstances of great gallantry fighting the Japs, so I wrote to Robert saying how sorry I was. Well, next thing he sent a telegram inviting himself down to see me, to get away from the dreadful grief at home. It was a wonder the boy on the bike found Church Street Blaina, as telegrams were very rare. Even more rare were cabs, so when Robert arrived from the station in one, half of Blaina turned out to gape. My wife Mary was in a panic: there was not enough of room for Robert, let alone him being an officer, a gentleman and a famous author. He had been good enough to know this and brought a folding camp bed which we put up in the parlour and he was content, although Mary was far from content, being a secret snob. We soon made ourselves scarce, I used the Castle so as to get away from the stares of my cronies, and downed a few before we went back to tackle the malt whisky in his bags. One thing led to another and by 4 AM he had decided to parade with my platoon, pretending to be a potential recruit. This had been a good idea at 4 AM, but became a bad one Saturday evening, but he insisted. I told him to keep his mouth shut, so as his loud officer voice did not betray the both of us. I put him in the rear rank, and he dwarfed everyone except me. Our officer was late on parade so I put the platoon through saluting drill, then rifle drill, then close-order drill, and Robert showed off a bit as he had forgotten little. The old second battalion had been merciless on junior officers and rightly expected them to excel at everything.

In came the officer and spotted this civvy sticking up in the air at the back. “Where did you learn to handle a rifle like that, my man?” Robert answered in a Music Hall mock Welsh accent and first he, then everyone, burst out laughing, some fit to bust and wheezing. The officer had him disarmed and bundled outside.

Nobody dropped me in it, and afterwards we took our turn to laugh over a few drinks till we cried. Robert said it had done him a power of good.

 

An Air Raid

When the threat of invasion was real, as it certainly was in the early days after we formed, there was a way of getting all the platoon mustered in double-quick time. The Constable, who had one of the very few telephones around, would be told of the emergency, he would ring our officer and then jump on his bike, make his best speed, and call me out. If I was at the labour, he would ring there, if in the pub, they had a phone too. My first duty was to warn Jenkins and a lance-corporal, who in turn warned two each, and so on. We only ever did it once for real, and that was for Hitler’s bomb, and it worked well enough.

At 4 AM on a work day I was woken by big explosions, the Air Raid siren followed, then Billy knocked me up and I was already more-or-less dressed. He gave the emergency word, so I was off, rifle, pack and ten rounds of ball ammunition, in minutes. Mary came to the door in a shawl, and I think we both feared it was good-bye for ever. The Platoon fell in at the hall within half an hour from the bomb, bleary eyed and unwashed, let alone shaved. We were told there had been a big air raid on Cardiff Docks and some had been well wide of the mark, including the one who unloaded a stick of bombs over Blaina.

The Blaina bomb did not explode, so our job was to cordon it off until relieved. Davies put us round the house and back garden and I made sure we were far enough away to stand a chance if it went off. A lot were delayed-action in those days, to discourage the bomb disposal teams. They arrived at dawn and found a big one which had gone straight into the two-hole privy out the back. Moses sneaked in with his box brownie for a snap, but it came out very dark. He took his life in his hands for that useless photo. Soon afterwards the proper army came to take over the cordon, we were relieved, and those of us with jobs went straight to them, armed to the teeth, grubby, tired out and hungry. When at last I got home for supper, Mary was overcome, as she had had little news and a great deal of rumour during the long day. The bomb was given a controlled explosion [I think the thought of digging it out of a privy  pit was more than the Engineers could stomach] so the privy fell to enemy action, although all the houses were spared. As for the owners, they didn’t know whether to be grateful they were not taken short just before the bomb arrived, or sorry about the khazi.

Censorship was very strong in those days, so we never saw a proper snap of the damage in the papers.

 

Private Black

Less than a year after we formed we were joined by a female: rather stout, past her prime, and very dark haired. Our officer’s military superior, the Company Commander, had arranged to inspect us for the first time. It was a nice early spring evening; I paraded the men in two ranks, one sergeant, one corporal and two lance-jacks, 24 other ranks in total. A shadow came across the open door so I called the parade to attention.

In walked Private Black, as she became known. She walked slowly along the front rank just like an inspecting officer and came back between the ranks as to the manner born, then sat to my flank where the drummer would be [if we had one] for guard mounting. There was a bit of sniggering, then in came the two officers.

“Your dog, sergeant?” No sir, I said, never seen it before! “Get rid of it!” I told it to leave, first politely, then in soldier slang. Nothing happened. She had no collar to grab, so I took hold of the scruff and she curled her lip and showed some yellow fangs, which I took as a hint so let go. I fell Lewis out, him having a dog of his own, and he tried to lift its backside while I tugged. Apart from the fangs, a growl, and the whites of the eyes, nothing moved. I offered to bayonet her, but the Major was amused and said to let her be. The inspection went surprisingly well, although not to the standards of the old regiment, and the dog sat as good as could be. As soon as we were dismissed she cluttered off into the evening

Sure enough, almost every fine spring and summer parade she was there. She never barked, never wagged her tail, and never went home the same way twice. Some of the soldiers tried to follow her to see where she lived, but she seemed to come from nowhere and go to nowhere. For several weeks around each August Bank holiday she was absent but always came back later.

The Drill Hall cat who kept down the mice seemed to look through Black, and the dog ignored the mouser. Moses had a snap or two remaining on his Box Brownie so he took a photo of Black and made a sort of poster and put it on the Council notice board but nobody claimed her. She would condescend to lap at a bowl of water but never took food, and was a teetotaller and never was tempted into the pub after parade. On any formal occasion she was there so long as it was good weather and daylight, but she never did Exercises, never turned out in winter or at night, and just went her own sweet way. It was as if she had adopted us, and not the other way round.

She was a very old dog, grey round the muzzle, by the time we came to be disbanded but she took her place on the right flank for our final parade. We were dismissed, she turned away, and none of us ever saw Private Black again.

 

 

Sport of a sort

I had seen the day coming. We were told that the lads were as trained as they would ever be, and were getting bored, so sport was to be next. It was a big item in the old battalion of course, and officers were expected to join in, and expected to win come to that. I dodged the column when I could, and the last time I was dragged in was a tug of war in about 1916 when I pulled for the officers of all things. I don’t remember who won.

So here we were, having to field a team against a neighbouring platoon, who were very much in the South Wales Borderers family. Of course the officers wanted what they called rugger, but there were simply not enough of possible players. Football it was then, and I was volunteered for goal, being unfit to run around but big enough to block a bit of goal line.

On the day the weather was dirty and the play was dirtier, the district Police Sergeant refereed and didn’t see the half of what went on. It ended 4 goals each, so it was agreed that we would play a decider at cricket when the better weather came.

 

I was hoping that they had forgotten but we had to turn out. Mrs Richards was asked to organise the teas, and Mrs Jenkins was to be the scorer for our side. She had done book-keeping and clerking and wrote a fair hand. Mary scrounged a trestle table or two, and an urn, from the WVS, aand all was set for the game using army tents for a pavilion. Fortunately the weather was better than the pitch, which had to be cleared of sheep. Each team was allowed one new recruit, and both were ringers, very good at cricket. We bowled first, Shovelgob behind the stumps and me hiding at longstop. Shovelgob left his teeth with his wife for safety. Our new recruit rushed in and was soon taking wickets even though most of the fielders seemed to need a basket to take catches.

 

We were set a reasonable low target and all went in to a nice tea with dainties that had not been seen since the war began. Beer was produced and the chatting and laughter got louder.

 

Our officer and I opened the batting, although I was only ever a blocker.  I took my Bass in its bottle out with me and put it behind the wicket for safety. Between overs I went for a drop and found their wicket keeper had seen it off. I was soon out after that and went for another beer. Our wickets tumbled so Shovelgob went out with only one pad on, nothing to protect his manhood and his teeth still in. He was facing their fast bowler and hopped about like the devil possessed but managed to score a few, more by luck than judgement.

 

The scorers said we had four to get to win, and Shovelgob scored them as byes off his backside. It was only when everybody had traipsed off that the scorers confessed to miscounting, so the game ended as a tie not a win.

 

The officers moved on to another fad and we never played any sort of decider.

 

Stop Lines and strange happenings

The whole country was criss-crossed with scratchy defences called Stop Lines, based on natural obstacles such as rivers, steep hills or cliffs and the like. Where roads crossed these lines road blocks and pill-boxes were built, road signs were removed and even the station names covered. The HG was to man its allotted portion of the line in the event of invasion, the idea being to give the regulars time to get to the battle front in strength. Using natural features was a big improvement on the last war, when we were always looking uphill at the Bosche it seemed. And standing in water half the time.

Our officer and his four NCOs were taken to our bit of the nearest stop. We had a road bridge in the centre of the position and fifty yards or so of the embankment on each side to defend so we were spread a bit thin, being about 30 reasonably trained men and a few raw recruits to run messages. We were dug-in under the trees, the luxury was that the digging had been done by navvies, and had good arcs of fire for our single Lewis gun. A pill-box commanded the bridge approaches, still smelling of wet concrete. Our officer was going to put HQ in the box until I pointed out it was the one definite target around and he saw sense in that. Shovelgob got two sections and the pillbox and the left flank, I had two slightly weaker sections and the Lewis gun for the right. Even today I could take you to the line, but I think I am still bound by the Official Secrets Act.

 

Several times in my regular service I saw or was told of weird happenings: I am not a religious man, and I cannot say that the supernatural cuts much ice, but the Indian Rope Trick, and the rat who haunted my signaller friend to his death did give me the wind-up, and they still bother me. The HG event happened like this: We had commenced to man the Stop for 48 hours as a practice so we could man it in our sleep if the balloon went up, and the officer rightly could not have 30 men sitting in holes in the ground doing very little for two days. There was nowhere to play any games so he decided to send out a half section at a time under an NCO or responsible man to practice map-reading- a bit like a Boy Scout hike it was We were given a roughly circular route of about ten miles to cover in 4 hours with rifle, pack and respirator, so it was fairly demanding of the older men. I took care to pick my detail so as to be able to keep up with them, and each of us had an hour in the front with map and compass. We got the pre-dusk period on a cool dry and quiet evening with a hint of mist forming, and our way took us on country tracks and minor unfenced roads mostly. The previous night I had slept badly, even allowing I was back in a trench, and had a worrying dream. Once we settled into the hike I told my party how the dream went, which was that I had been walking in the country where I went through a hamlet with a redbrick Chapel and a pub next door, which seemed odd but convenient. In the dream nothing much happened, but I had to wade a ford, got my boots wet, went through an orchard where a dog rushed out and put the wind up me.

Nobody seemed much interested in my tale so I shut up, a bit disgruntled, and left them to quietly trudge through the thickening mist.

In the third hour the front man said “Dick, something odd going on here!” I had been having strange feelings for ten minutes without laying a finger on the reason. John Bainton accused me of trying to put the wind up them with a trick, so I stopped. We were in an orchard with a dog barking at our heels. Our boots were still wet from the ford, and only minutes before I had told Moses he of all people had no right to blaspheme when walking past a Chapel. As to whether it was next door to a pub, we were too on edge to go back and check. I cannot explain all this, but I have two witnesses still alive, if they could be persuaded to talk.

 

Rationing and the Blackout.

 For most people in our part of Wales the rationing and the blackout were the worst aspects of the war unless they had a relative serving. Constable Davies and the ARP were very officious about the blackout, but they couldn’t be everywhere, especially Davies with his bike, pushing except down steep hills. A fair bit of light spilled out of the houses up in the hills, and without challenge. There were not many cars about, petrol was rationed and hard to come by lawfully, and bikes had a hard time of it so several men came a cropper in the dark.

We could all see the sense of rationing, but the ration books and coupons did seem silly. You could end up, we said, entitled to two thirds of a sawdust sausage, and then they would be all sold out unless the butcher fancied your wife. One thing nobody in Wales was short of was mutton. One way or the other we lived on mutton till we began to wonder if we were turning into sheep.

Like most people we dug for victory, and got decent vegetables in the little patch Mary tended and Margaret hindered. Our platoon looked after one big allotment because most holders had been mobilised. Shovelgob turned out to be the star, with Williams the Post very good at weeding, possibly because he started so near the ground, being very short.

The Womens’ Institute decided to have a Fruit and Vegetable Show with prizes. We had a new officer, a much better one, with Mutt and Jeff ribbons from the last war, and he decided we had to win something. Everybody knows that the answer lies in the soil, and the secret answer is fertiliser. So just about everyone in Blaina had a bucket and shovel handy, watching the baker’s pony, the coalman’s pair and the milkman’s donkey cart through twitching curtains so that the dung was often still steaming as it was scooped up. Young Dusty Rhodes claimed to have caught a bucket-load off Carter Patterson before it even hit the road. It went straight into the trenches, as we called our allotment. We grew leeks, onions, shallots, potatoes and beetroot, but the carrot caught the fly and was no good at all. The story was that carrots were good for seeing in the dark, so we were at a disadvantage there. As the Show day approached we set a night guard armed with pickaxe helves because rivalry had led to bit of thieving and sabotage elsewhere in Blaina. A few nights before Judgement Day young Idwal Edwards, our platoon scout, was on guard. He was a poacher, with eyes and ears like a hawk and he could move as quiet as a Red Indian despite the limp that kept him out of the army. He heard something near the shed and was on it in a flash, pinning the intruder to the ground. Whoever it was smelt very nice, was plump and wriggly, and Idwal was just starting to enjoy himself when Constable Davies shone his big police lamp on the struggling couple. The President of the WI brushed away the dirt, and made off without a word. After that it was only right and proper that we did well from the judging, her being a judge.

 

Christmas

We were living in Hatter Street, Brymawr, so it was probably Christmas 1942 and we had our usual family get-together for a slap-up meal and a good drink, despite the rationing. Mary and I had a number of family within distance, especially when she let on we had a couple of chicken to pluck, a rare treat. Not that I attach a great deal to Christmas, not from a religious point of view, although I did have good memories of the truce in the trenches in 1914. Old Dr Dunn wrote it up well in his book but Stockwell comes out of it better than he should, the pig. I have seen many a foul-mouthed soldier have a brief conversion to faith after a couple of hours of non-stop mortaring and whizzbangs on his trench.

I myself was more looking forward to Boxing Day because of a chance to get out of the house and have a feed with friends not family. Our officer was a bit of a Hunt follower, and, although hunting had more-or-less stopped, they still got together on Boxing Day for a Point-to-Point. Being short of young men to act as marshals and pick up the pieces round the course, the HG was asked if it would like to volunteer. There was beer and grub, and free transport in an open charabanc, so a lot of men did volunteer. I was looking forward to it, as I said.

The Christmas meal and the booze were very good. I helped to cook as I like cooking, and led the drinking, and the ladies were on port and lemon that slowly became less diluted. The tradition was for Mary to poke a few silver threepenny pieces in the pud, and also one little china baby. The baby was always aimed at any young married woman likely to get in the family way during the next year, and Mary always fixed this carefully so as to be right often enough to be accused of witchcraft. The coins were found by chance, and were exchanged for a real sixpence afterwards to be used again next year. Some of the coins were from old Queen Victoria’s reign so the tradition was probably handed down with the silver. All was sweetness and light until the coins were counted up. One was found to be missing, so obviously one had been eaten because not a scrap of duff was left. Little Margaret, she was 5 or 6 years at the time, was assumed to be the culprit, without very good reason. I pointed out that she had the smallest mouth and throat so should have felt something. The womenfolk knew better, so, as Margaret denied any such thing she was put under orders never to flush the pan. The details you can imagine, and I played no part except to be under orders to be handy until the cash came through the usual channels. What being handy had anything to do with matters was not clear, not then and not since.

So I missed the point-to-point next day, being confined to barracks. By the 28th there had still been no payout, despite frequent searches, so the women counted the coins again. By this time the pudding glueing two threepennies together had dried out, and there was the right number. Nobody said sorry, not to Margaret nor to me.

 

 

First Aid and other fashions

Among the ideas that were imposed on us was that each platoon needed a First Aider NCO. This was nonsense from a military point of view because the HG was designed to fight a short delaying action before being destroyed, over run or outflanked, so anyone unable to retreat was best left to the tender mercies of Jerry. We would be in uniform [apart from a few picked men about whom nothing may be said] so would be covered by the Geneva Convention, such as that is. When a man is wounded it sucks in not only a first aider but also any man who would rather help him to the rear rather than face the front. That way a trickle can become a rout.

I was not listened to, so suggested that our most useless older man should get the job. A stripe should make him happy. Again, I was overruled. The ex-Boy Scout who had helped Williams the Post all those months ago was a keen bright lad with his Ambulance badge, so David Jones got the job despite being the fittest, most mobile and a good shot. Off he went to Cardiff on a course and was made up to Lance-Corporal, with a red cross armband. We couldn’t believe the size and weight of his satchel, so I got him to empty it on the trestle table. There was aspirin, cascara, Epsom salts, smelling salts, cough mixture, piles cream, eye drops, iodine, splints, bandages and goodness knows what else. “Look boy” I said “in battle we will all have blinding headaches, and nobody will be constipated!”.

I fell them in outside and told them straight. Every man has got a wound dressing. Every man can apply one. Every man has spare bootlaces for a tourniquet, and can make a splint with a rifle. Any man shot in the head, body, lungs or groin will be better off captured than with Jones poking about. Finally, Jones can take off his armlet, pick up his rifle and bayonet, put a few wound dressings and bandages and extra water in his satchel, and fall in!  Their faces were a picture, because they had not thought much about it. Nobody resigned after my outburst, and Jones went back to be a rifle and bayonet LCpl except for inspections, when the satchel and the armband came out. The officer secretly agreed or I would never have got away with it. Later on I used the piles cream but I blame it for bringing on dhobi itch. I had never had the itch since I left India, but it came back so badly that I had to see the doctor.  He poked about down below with the end of a pencil and I hope it was what he stirred his tea with because his cure was worse than the itch. I had to wear pyjama trousers under my scratchy army trousers for weeks.

Once we had a good sized platoon in uniform, armed and basically trained as soldiers we began to get even more orders to improve training in this, that or the other. Every part of soldiering had its experts who tried to push their ideas: all of the ideas would beat Jerry if he came, they said, from cooking to vehicle maintenance to gas to aircraft recognition. It was known that Richards had been a trained signaller in a proper army in a proper war, so I was ordered to run classes. This was not the only time in the Guard that I argued with an officer, but this time I pressed the point. There is no point in having signallers in a rifle platoon. If the officers and NCOs do not have the men in hand and under control by voice, whistle or gesture, the platoon is useless. There was never any chance of fighting as part of a company, so there was little call to communicate in that direction either. The officer huffed and puffed and dropped the matter.

Musketry was a different kettle of fish, and I said as much. We had so little of ball ammunition that every shot had to count against Jerry, so I begged borrowed or stole enough for a short musketry course. Poacher Edwards turned out a better shot than me, but I despaired of Solly who was so bad as to be dangerous. He was never allowed near a firearm again, because if Hitler had even an inkling that there were many Sollys about, he would have landed in Wales without any cares.

 

 

A Family Wedding

If there was no important HG duty coming up, members could get away for a few days provided their military job, if they had one, was covered for them. Shovelgob, now a Lance-Sergeant, covered for me, and I left my particulars with the platoon clerk, Corporal Kerr, who had got the job because he owned a half share in a typewriter.

We went to a family wedding near Milford Haven, which was quite a journey in those days. I think we had to get special permission to visit because Milford was a very restricted military area, The wedding was Mary’s side of the family, and we made it into a few days holiday, the only one of the war. Our suitcases went off by Carter Patterson the day before, and then we made the slow train ride across Wales: me in mufti because I had refused to wear uniform. The groom was RAF, a Leading Aircraftsman, and the last thing he would have wanted was a tired old sergeant with medal ribbons hanging around. The big day went as well as anyone dared hope, no tears, and Chapel of course, the minister a lot younger than the old boy who said the words for me and Mary nearly ten years before.

The wedding breakfast was austere because of rationing, and the cake was cleverly made on to white cardboard to make it seem much bigger, a form of civilian camouflage in wartime. The best man made the usual bad attempt at funny stories, managed to remember to thank little Margaret the bridesmaid, and his filthy jokes were fortunately so filthy that none of the womenfolk understood a word. So they said. Margaret’s frock was a blue dress from a Jumble Sale that Mary cut down for her.

The groom’s grandfather, a sprightly veteran of several of the old Queen’s wars, suggested a sweepstake with half-crown stakes which he collected in his bowler hat. I cannot remember the sporting event or events, but we got the results on an old radio which needed a lead accumulator battery, which in turn had to go to a garage for charging and came back just in time. Grandpa scooped the lot himself, more than enough to buy a new hat, and if he had been 20 years younger the muttering and words might have led to worse, as a deal of beer was drunk.

A relation on the bride’s side, an RAF Police Corporal, was given the job of keeping the children out of mischief, as he did some conjuring and imitation voices. He had some good tricks but made the mistake of ending by hiding a half-crown in each nostril [how he had any left after grandpa I don’t know]. They were not completely hidden but in no danger of falling out, but everyone started to laugh, he joined in, the cash shot out of his nose and he lost control of his wind, which echoed round the room like a thunderclap and scandalised his mother. I suspect several of the blokes took the opportunity to ease their own wind, as I did. The women threw open the windows and stormed out.

Afterwards, the couple went away by taxi, the women went into one room and the men into the other and we lit up and raised a glass or two. The best man turned out to be good company now that he had put his wedding jokes away, and we sat by the fire and swapped yarns until the drink began to talk. One of the men thought it might be possible to fill the glass chandelier by firing a soda water siphon up at it. The chandelier was shaped like a bowl, and he had nearly filled it when he fused all the lights and the plaster came down. The women had been taking gin and came rushing in just as the glass and chain fell down, soaking all the ones near it. We went to bed rather earlier than we intended.

None of which is anything to do with the Home Guard but it happened in the war and I dare say similar things happened elsewhere because the whole country had been under strain for years and needed a good laugh or two on occasion.

 

Late on Parade

In all my time as a regular soldier before and during the Great War, I took good care to avoid ‘crime’ as the army saw it. This was as a result of an early run-in with authority. This is not to say I behaved perfectly, but well enough to qualify for several good conduct stripes on my sleeve. The HG did not have such tings, although I saw some ex-regulars with them stitched on, but in any case full ranks such as corporal and sergeant were supposed to be above that sort of award. However, if I had been eligible the stripes would have been at risk one calm moonlit winter Saturday.

Just as was putting the blacking brush across my boots, Mary said she wanted the parlour fire alight, so I put a match to the kindling. It had got a bit damp [perhaps it was the first fire of the winter] but anyhow it produced smoke but no flame. I went to find the tin sheet I used to put in front of the fire to make it draw, but could not see it anywhere, and time was pressing. No doubt Margaret had used it for some game of hers. So I used a couple of sheets of yesterday’s People. This involved sitting on the floor facing the fireplace, holding the top corners top left and top right of the opening, and fixing the bottom corners with my boots. This always caused a fierce draught. A sheet of tin is better, because it does not catch fire. Sure enough, the newspaper article I was reading whilst the fire took hold turned crisp brown then burst into flames. The only safe thing to do was stuff the whole paper in the fire, which roared up a treat and set the old soot in the chimney alight in a flash. Mary came in and made those tutting noises that women make when they catch you out. It was past my time to leave for the Drill Hall, and my chimney was ablaze.

Seen from the road the flames shot out the chimney like a Brock’s benefit, and Mary shouted from inside that burning soot was falling into the room. If we had afforded a carpet it would have been ruined. There was nothing for it but to call the Fire Brigade, so I dashed to the corner phone box and dialled 999 for the only time in my life.

Fortunately they had a cleverer way of dealing with it than I had thought so instead of sticking a hose up or down the chimney they sealed both ends with wet blankets and starved the fire of air. Either way, there was always going to be a dreadful mess made, and I was glad at last to insist that my military duty was up the road, not dealing with the mess. Anyway, there were enough of nosy neighbours in the street to help with that.

I arrived a full half-hour late. Shovelgob had done my job, paraded and inspected the platoon and handed over to the officer, no doubt reporting “Sgt Richards absent”, with relish. The officer was clearly not best pleased when I burst in, untidy, dirty and with smudges of soot as decoration. “Sergeant?” “Very sorry sir, I was setting off at my usual time when I saw a chimney ablaze, and I thought I had better help deal with it!” “Quite right, Sergeant, we have a civic duty as well as a military one!”

So I saved what good reputation I had, but lost it at home for quite some time.

 

The Platoon Photo

It was decided that we would celebrate Taffy’s Day on 1st March in the Welsh tradition as far as we were able. This meant eating the leek with a goat on parade, and a snapshot of the whole Platoon with shiny boots. This took me back in my mind to Chakrata, India, around 1904, when I first did it. You should only have to eat the leak on your first occasion, but as the officer and Shovelgob both claimed to have done it, we agreed we could hardly ask the men to do it with us watching and sniggering, so enough of leaks were purchased for us all.  The least said about eating the leeks the better;  there was strong liquor to help it down but not keep it down.

Finding a goat was a bit of a problem, and the photo was a total box-up. A goat was borrowed at the last minute, and young Trevor Lewis got the appointment of Goat-Major, because he had a cat, a dog and some ferrets. The St David’s Day goat should have gilded horns; ours had to make do with the Xmas tinsel. It knew a thing or two and resisted being pulled, or pushed, or coaxed, so he was at best rear three-quarter view in the photo group, having already chewed a forage cap and deposited dung rather prominently.

Private Black, by contrast, was as good as gold, and sat in front of the officer like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. The official photographer had come up from Cardiff with his tripod and big camera, the sort that goes slowly round by clockwork. He was very pushy and wanted everything just so, and our officer was being told what to do along with the rest of us. Getting people in place took ages, but finally the front row were seated, gripping their knees in the army photo way, me one side of the officer, Jenkins the other, and the lance-jacks outside us. I think some had even painted their boots they were so shiny.

It was a good job we did not see the antics in the two rows behind, one row standing, and the back row on chairs or forms. Lewis’s brother appeared twice, having run from one end to the other as the clockwork slowly went round. Solly was nowhere to be seen: either his chair had collapsed or he was nudged off or the drink had taken him again. If it was drink, that was not unusual, as I have seen him drunk as a rolling **** on several occasions. Edwards had grown a pair of horns, they were a V sign by his neighbour, and somehow a photo of Churchill was held up in the middle row as if he too was on parade.

All this took place in front of the pub, with a fair few spectatators and guttersnipes looking on and making rude comments, so we were glad to drink our officer’s health in the usual way and get off home afterwards. We were all offered a copy of the snap but it seemed rather a lot and I doubt if anyone other than the officer forked out.

 When next week we saw the result, there was bedlam. Nobody ordered a copy, so the photographer made very little out of the job, which served him right for making such a fuss beforehand.

 

 

 

The Choir

The valleys had sprouted uniform: Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, WVS, Red Cross, St John Ambulance, the ARP, the HG and the constable himself. Our Town Clerk, a good sort, fancied to get a choir together, with all uniforms represented. He had a good baritone, could read music and conduct, and he had no trouble getting things going. The younger men and girls joined, I suspect, to socialise; the older men tended to look for excuses to avoid it, especially the Home Guard. My excuse was being unable to read music beyond seeing the next note was either the same, up a bit, up a lot, down a bit, or down a lot. Jenkins’s jaw and teeth were his get-out, but the HG were not unrepresented. Two of our platoon, the Lee brothers, were very good singers. They were reputed to be Gypsies and certainly they needed watching because items tended to disappear if left lying around. The elder Lee was the star tenor, but he was waiting call-up so was not going to be available for long. Performances were mostly in church or chapel to make use of an organ. The church organ was pumped by hand, which was hard work. If the hymn, aria or song was a long one, the chief pumper could not last the course, and had to hand over to his deputy so as to go out and water the wall or the gravel. The choir had a good run, performing Calon Lan, Cwm Rhondda, and such like in a lot of halls and Chapels and even pubs. After a while the choir fell on hard times, mostly because the young people paired off and preferred the seats in the dark Picture House to more public performances. The nail in the coffin was when the choir heard that Lee the tenor had been injured in the throat in army basic training. He lived, but his vocal chords were permanently damaged and a possible career in singing was ruined. War does terrible things, besides straightforward killing.  Although I am not sentimental or musical, I can still hear our choir if I close my eyes.

 

The Yanks

One Saturday I was in charge. The parade and inspection were poor, so to make them buck their ideas up I fell them in with rifles and led a route march with a lot of uphill and not much down. We were lucky not to have the silly little prongs that passed for bayonets: we had the good long ones that could make a hero out of a dwarf, but they were heavy. The sweat poured off the men and I could hear a few curses and threats. As always we went back into town marching at attention, and we came on a commotion around two foreign looking lorries with big white stars on them. One was having a wheel changed. There were about a dozen sloppily-dressed soldiers, smoking, spitting, chewing and doing wolf-whistles and calling out to the passers-by, who naturally formed a crowd. The soldiers were, if anything, more scruffy than the Portuguese in the Great War.

In the middle of this bedlam was Constable Billy Davies, his bike, and a young Yank officer wearing glasses. I halted my thirty and they did the best halt ever, one crash of boots and every man standing still and straight. After the hard time I had given them, the dressing of the threes was good, and I suppose they all grew an inch to impress the foreigners. I wasn’t sure whether to salute a Yank, but Davies bustled over and said “for God’s sake, Dick, get them to stop insulting the women: there’s good chapelgoers and girls getting filthy suggestions, I can’t allow such goings-on!”

In India we had often practiced going to the aid of the civil power in an emergency, to be authorised by the Collector, Commissioner, Magistrate or whatever, as the Riot Act lays down. As I saw things, the Constable was the only civil power, and I was being asked to sort matters out. So I marched smartly to the officer and asked him quietly, Sir, to bundle his men in the lorries and drive off, but it was clear he had no good word of command and I am sure his men had taken strong drink. Nothing was happening quickly enough, and then one man unbuttoned himself and started to relieve himself against a rear wheel. That did it!

I shouted “Platoon will Left turn! Open Order!” and then gave the preparatory for fixing bayonets, or something like that. There were now three lines of angry men facing the Yanks, who were now showing a lot more interest. The lorries had gone within a minute or two, leaving behind a puddle, litter, dog-ends, chewing gum and a lot of bad feeling.  These were the first Americans we saw and they probably came from Milford, where there were lots of them.

It was just as well they went because I think I had exceeded my authority, as had Davies, and I don’t know what I could have done next that was not going to start a second War of Independence.

Our officer was congratulated when he got to the Conservative Club, and, although he didn’t know the half of it he was happy to take the credit. Billy Davies bought me a few drinks and a pickled onion.

 

The END

It had been clear to anyone with half a brain that the Guard had become an unnecessary expense in the build up to D Day, the country was an armed camp full to overflowing with troops, armour and guns so Hitler had better things to think about than invading Wales.

So we were stood down, disbanded, and handed in our uniforms and weapons. It had been a surprisingly good few years and nobody had been killed [no thanks to Moses Solomon]. We had felt we were doing our bit, it had got us out the house, and we had some good grins to balance out a few tears.

Those of us who had been in three years or more got the Defence Medal too, the only one of mine without my name on, on a ribbon of green for the green fields, black for the blackout, white for searchlights and orange for the flames of the Blitz. Mine did not last long, I think I used it to open a bottle of Bass, as it meant nothing to me compared with the Great War.

 

There was no formal parade, we just turned to the right one last time and were dismissed into the night, Private Dog Black first out the door as usual. I got round to writing these memories because Robert kept going on about me writing a third book, about the mines and the valleys and the goings-on. I never had the heart to tackle that because O.S.S. nearly finished me off, but I have come round to thinking that a few more war stories might please some folk. Not to be published, but after I have gone they might be interesting if you like that sort of thing. Robert got his way after a fashion.

 

I will bury these notes on the hillside above our home. Perhaps they will be found one day and somebody might give them an airing

 

...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................

About ten years ago, I had finished editing Old Soldiers Never Die, Old Soldier Sahib, and Frank’s letters to Robert Graves for Stand To!  

I was in a spell of Seasonal Affected Disorder and under treatment, indeed it comes back every winter. One way of exorcising Frank was, for a short while, to try to write like Frank, almost to be Frank, to somehow get him out of my head.

 

Out of this came these imagined memoirs, a sort of pastiche, which I had no thought of exposing to third parties. Indeed, it languished as manuscript in a tatty grubby notebook until recently. My wife [who had some input regarding the various incidents] recently said it was a pity not to amuse people with them, and who better to amuse than the GWF, who are both amusable and knowledgeable?

 

We fully expected the artifice to be exposed straight away, and had no intention to deceive in other than the shortest of short terms. That short term is up, and confession is good for the soul, and publishing has helped to ward off the S A D.

 

Please accept my apologies. I hope not to be cast into the outer darkness.

 

David Langley, aka Grumpy aka Muerrisch

 

 

 

 

Edited by Muerrisch
clarification

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The Scorer

Excellent ... thanks for repeating them.

 

:)

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Fattyowls

Stylish as ever Frank, sorry David. I can't tell where Richards ends and Grumpy begins.

 

Pete.

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tullybrone

Pleased my little advertisement has resulted in a reprise of these excellent posts.

 

Well Done Grumpy.

 

Steve

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T8HANTS

The point is, a whole bunch of us enjoyed the tales, take out the artifice and write from the standpoint of an old soldier in the Home Guard!

Military fiction is a perfectly respectable genre, look at the Sharpe series.

I also know from my research into the formation of the Isle of Wight's  Rifle Volunteers, you couldn't make some of the reported incidents up.  I suspect if you delve into the RV's and change it HG's eighty years later you will have enough material for a very entertaining book and there is a market here already.

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Marilyne

Read the books.... they're brilliant !

 

Just read Grumpy Muerrish' addendum... equaly brilliant!!!

 

M.

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other ranker

I have both the Old Soldiers books and was enthralled by both. Pleeeaase get this book out there. I think it would go down a storm.

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Muerrisch

Writing is a winter thing. It also needs inspiration or at least a dogged inventiveness. 

How about ideas from Forumites for an anecdote? A brief synopsis, no more than 30 words, would get the brain cell quivering.

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T8HANTS

My late F in L also ex HG, was stone deaf since childhood, but a very keen Home Guard, one night during an important exercise, Ted failed to hear a senior officers command (repeat several times), result the exercise went a slightly awry, senior officer wanted Ted dismissed on the spot.  The entire platoon said no Ted, no platoon, they would all go home, collapse of senior officer, Ted served on.

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seaJane

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Dai Bach y Sowldiwr
45 minutes ago, Muerrisch said:

Writing is a winter thing. It also needs inspiration or at least a dogged inventiveness. 

How about ideas from Forumites for an anecdote? A brief synopsis, no more than 30 words, would get the brain cell quivering.

My local hamlet had a family of well integrated real Welsh speaking Romany gypsies.

Nice folk.

But they wouldn't adhere to the Blackout regs.

HG went round once and threatened shoot the bulbs out.

Living in a caravan, they didn't have any...

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Muerrisch

Noted, thank you!

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Len Trim
15 hours ago, Muerrisch said:

Writing is a winter thing. It also needs inspiration or at least a dogged inventiveness. 

How about ideas from Forumites for an anecdote? A brief synopsis, no more than 30 words, would get the brain cell quivering.

Ex WW1 soldier now sargeant in Home Guard. One evening while on exercise on local laird's estate accosted by desperate son who has tractor load of Naafi cigarettes and the Military Police on his tail. Home Guard dismantle haystack and hide cigarettes and set up platoon HQ with guard. Frustrated MPs led by son of laird baffled.

 

True story based on my paternal grandfather, my Uncle William and the estates around Grantown On Spey where the Highland Division trained.

Len

PS Grandfather served in the Gordon Highlanders throughout WW1. Uncle eventually served in Far East, unit forgotten by me, at the very war's end and had some fascinating stories including witnessing execution of some Japanese officers. Java? Wish I had written down their stories.

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Bernard_Lewis
On 04/04/2019 at 19:48, Muerrisch said:

 

I confessed after I ran the series of chapters that I was the author, writing as best I could in Frank's style. I was convinced from the outset that nobody would believe the tall stories were really by Frank, and I became embarrassed by the popularity of the anecdotes.

I suppose, in my defence, having edited the books, and having had all of Frank's letters to Robert Graves to hand, I was as well placed as any to write "Old Soldier Indeed".

An enjoyable read! Were the incidents you describe based on snippets contained in Frank's letters to Robert Graves? 

 

Bernard

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Muerrisch

Len Trim .... got it thank you.

 

Bernard. I think Richard's letters had a germ or two, but many of the details are from observation during my life. The man who lost control of his wind was an uncle, a greta and disgraceful hero of mine.

 

The following article by me appeared in Stand To! many years ago.

 

Private Frank Richards DCM, MM, 2RWF: the author.

 

 

Most members of the Association will be familiar with Richards’s two classics of autobiography, Old Soldiers Never Die [OSND], and Old Soldier Sahib [OSS].  This article examines his life, his personality, and how the books came to be written.

 

On 11th June 1883 Mary Ann Woodruff informed the Registrar of New­port, Mon., of the birth of a boy, Francis Philip, on 7th April at Upper Ma­chen Farm, Machen, Mon. She gave her maiden name as Richards, and the father's name as Francis Au­gustus Woodruff, occupation Colliery Pro­prietor. Young Francis was an only child.

 

Assuming that the parents were indeed married, it is disappoint­ing that diligent inquiry has failed to trace the wedding in official records, despite searching backwards and indeed forwards for several years. The April 1881 Census shows that a Francis Agustus [sic] Woodruff was liv­ing, unmarried, at Chatham Bovil House, Upper Machen, under the roof of Phillip [sic] and Caroline, both in their sixties, and three other Woodruffs, all unmarried, between 45 and 25 years of age. The two other members of the household may have been servants, neither of whom were Mary Ann, and there is nothing either here or seemingly anywhere else to support Robert Graves's journalistic descrip­tion of Francis Au­gustus as ne'er do well [in the Introduction to a paper­back edition of OSND]. Another branch of the Wood­ruffs appears to have been living nearby at The Yedw House, with Phillip T. Woodruff as head of household, and a clutch of young Wood­ruffs aged 12 and below. Phillip T.'s age, 41, fits neatly into the possible family hier­archy and he may have been the first of the clan to marry and leave home. There were five others living un­der his roof, probably servants, and there is in­deed an Ann Jane Richards of marriageable age, but no Mary Ann.

 

Little more is known of Francis's early life. Indeed he himself dis­missed it in less than two lines in OSS. “I have some recollection of my father and mother but will commence my story in the year 1893 when I was left an orphan at the age of nine”. Robert Graves wrote [Introduction, Old Soldiers Never Die] that Frank was allowed by his aunt and uncle to believe that he was illegitimate. This may be so, but a boy of eight or nine could be expected to know his parent's names, and to infer that they were married. Frank said he was left an orphan at the age of nine, without elaborating. This can mean many things, and the most dra­matic of these, simultaneous deaths by accident or design, has been searched for in the records without result. Searching for separate deaths, with such relatively common surnames, is ex­tremely arduous.

 

Frank consistently exhibited great loyalty and love to his adoptive parents in Blaina, Mon. This is clear both in his words "no boy could have had better parents than what they were to me" [OSS] and his actions, for example when he left the career he loved early in 1909 to "see Blaina and my uncle and aunt and cousins again". Formal adoption records for the period have not been traced and may not exist, so his precise adoptive status is unclear. He did, however, adopt his uncle Thomas's surname, and, as the uncle was twin brother to Francis's natural mother, he became Frank Richards, and appears never to have used the Philip or the Woodruff again. From the age of about ten, he was an habitual tru­ant from the local Board School, built in 1884 for a total of 1,315 children. The won­der of it is that he grew to be a fluent, enter­taining and exciting writer [but then his near contempo­rary, Winston Churchill, had a poor record at his school, Har­row, and look what he wrote]. The uncle was a well-paid roller in a local tinplate works, Welsh but unedu­cated, and had only a little Welsh language, although his wife Sarah Ann was fluent and attempted with little success to teach Frank the rudiments.

 

Equally, attempts by his aunt to inculcate religion were unavail­ing, despite, perhaps because, the fact that Blaina and district boasted the im­pressive total of eleven places of worship in 1901. As soon as he was al­lowed [the day he reached twelve] Frank went down the mine, was paid 7/6 per week [more than he subse­quently netted as a soldier] and was soon up to 11/-. He grew up with the increasing tribe of little Richardses, and was very impressed when the eldest, David, joined the South Wales Borderers as a regular soldier. David served in the South African War, but became ill as a result, was invalided out with a heart condition and did not live to old age. Frank, surprisingly for a tall, handsome lad earning good money, and with nothing wrong with his natural instincts, did not by his own account lose his virginity on some pleasant hillside above Blaina, and it was not until he was in scarlet regimentals that this experience came his way.

 

Frank twice tried to join the Royal Welch Fusiliers [in common with most of his contemporaries he used the form Welch, rather than the then-official Welsh], firstly in 1900, and then a year later when, at seven­teen and a half years, he had a bad day at the Hereford Races and went on to Bre­con, lied about his age by adding a year, and was accepted, after an argu­ment with the Recruiting Sergeant, for the regiment of his choice, privi­leged to wear the flash, a "smart bunch of five black ribbons sewn in a fan shape on the back of the tunic collar". He joined on 12th April 1901, and was given the regimental num­ber 6584 which he retained throughout his service. Old Soldier Sahib gives a vivid picture of his induc­tion. He narrowly missed the draft for South Africa because of his selec­tion and training as a signaller, learned to box and indeed fight and drink, and be­came a marksman. It is clear that he was proud of these quali­fica­tions and he learned early on that there was every point in os­tensibly toeing the military line, whilst maintaining a fierce in­dependence of spirit. He joined the an­nual draft to reinforce the overseas battalion, 2/Royal Welch Fusiliers, in 1902, and soon settled into the Indian way of life of un­accustomed com­forts and experi­ences for even the most junior soldier, inter­spersed with fierce heat and rain, route marches and scuffles with the natives.

 

Old Soldier Sahib paints a vivid and informative picture of these years, and is now a much-sought-af­ter rare classic. Around the turn of the cen­tury soldiers signed for a bewildering va­riety of Terms of Engagement, the authorities changing them to suit short term contingencies, until eventu­ally settling in 1906 for seven years with the colours and five on the paid reserve, after several previous experiments with these same figures. As an additional complication, soldiers serving overseas in the year that they com­pleted seven were compelled to stay an extra year [and indeed were compelled to serve on in any declared war]. When Frank had his opportu­nity to extend to serve twelve years with the colours, the call of home was strong and, to his subse­quent regret, he chose to return to the Valleys in 1909. His sou­venirs of army service in­cluded a cheap ready-made demob suit, tattoos and recurring malaria, but not, for­tunately, the dreadful vene­real disease which was the scourge of our soldiers in India, such that Lord Kitchener had written his men a powerful dia­tribe includ­ing " …. the nose falls in at the bridge and then rots and falls off …..".

 

Thomas and Sarah Ann Richards were, by this date, living in New­port, Mon., but Frank found the house claustro­phobic and became restless. He did, however, gamble success­fully several times on ‘Minouru’, King Edward's horse, culmi­nating in watching the horse win the Derby. By his own ac­count he then went gallivanting about the country on his win­nings until he was broke, went back to Newport and did la­bouring at 5 ½ d. a day. The collieries paid much better so Frank moved into lodgings with the Prattens at 14 Church Street, Blaina, and worked as a tim­ber­man's assistant. He was still on the Army Reserve, firstly Class B, and then, by choice, signed for an extra period of commitment and thus en­tered Class D. In either case, the Reserve pay was 6d a day paid quarterly, and imme­diately spent quarterly in the Castle Inn at Blaina, sur­rounded by cronies. Sixpence a day for ninety days amounts to the spending power of £160 in year 2004 equivalents, enough for a decent evening or two, even in thirsty com­pany. And the Cas­tle Inn is where Frank Richards took up his tale Old Soldiers Never Die.

 

During the war he avoided all promotion, although those with a much in­ferior record were offered and accepted it, or asked for and got it. He seems to have been at ease in the company of officers, even making up numbers for the officers' team in tug-of-war, but preferred to remain with his mates, par­ticularly the Birmingham men, for whom he had great re­spect and affection. His circumstances after demobilisation in Decem­ber 1918 were unhappy. He had little money: "I had arrived in France broke and would leave it in the same way". He was ill, despite unwisely putting a brave face on it for his discharge medical which passed him A1. In addi­tion to malaria and rheu­matism he had haemorrhoids, exacerbated by trench life, which ultimately required substantial surgery. He had no per­manent job, and no army pension after all his years of ser­vice. Even Frank's DCM would only have been pen­sionable if he had been in receipt of a service pension. And his life-long addiction to gambling was no help at all, so that his War Gratuity of about £30 [the small print of the Army Order is very complicated] would not have lasted very long. His official army personal file is not traceable, and was probably a victim of the Luft­waffe in the Blitz of 1940, when many Army Records were dam­aged by fire, or soaked by fire­men's hoses.

 

He went back to lodge with Mr and Mrs Pratten in Blaina. The family had written to him, supported him and sent him parcels during the war. His portrait, with medals, the first photograph in this book, shows a hand­some and confident man in the prime of life. The photograph is most in­teresting, as it contains an anachronism. He had been demobilized a year or more before the clasp to the 'Mons Star' was instituted, and the clasp can clearly be seen on the medal ribbon. Did someone persuade him to pose for the record? We may never know. The Richardses, uncle Thomas and aunt Sarah Ann, lived to make old bones, the uncle reaching seventy-five and the aunt, Frank's beloved aunt, was still alive, reading her bible, and able to put her mark to an affidavit regarding Frank's birth circum­stances in 1936.

 

In writing OSND his initial motive, according to a BBC radio inter­view given in 1956 and quoted by Graves, was that he had read books by officers "but it was a different war to what I knew, being in the ranks". Writing did not come easily, and be­came more difficult the more he did. "If I had known what I was letting myself in for I should never had had the heart to com­mence". The task of writing took eighteen months, in and out of casual work as a clerk at the Labour Exchange, in and out of funds, scribbling away in notebooks up the mountainside and ruining his eyes in candle-lit gloom in the evenings. The circum­stances in which he wrote have been described by Graves [see some paperback editions of OSND and OSS], and more recently by Mrs Dorothy Wedgbury, daughter of the Prattens, who remembers being sent by Frank to buy ½ d. notebooks. She saw him occasionally ripping out and tearing up his ef­forts, and burning his notebooks on a tip by the river.

 

Frank said that he relied mainly on his memory. Indeed, he had to, because in 1932 the informal battalion history The War the Infantry Knew had not been published, the war works of Graves and Siegfried Sassoon would have been of little use, due mainly to their very short lengths of service in the battalion, and the unit War Diary was not accessible to him. He had his cronies, he had a few correspondents and he had his memory. And what a truly amazing memory! He was by temperament seemingly incapable of keeping his own war diary, even if the pleasure of disobey­ingthe strict orders on the subject had given him that incentive. Trapped by poverty in and around Blaina, in eighteen months he created for posterity this marvellous ac­count of war and warri­ors, heroes and cowards, the lucky and the doomed, seen through the eyes of a rifle-and-bayonet man in a famous and proud regular battal­ion. The book is listed in bibliographies on just about every subject connected with the Great War: morale, tactics, equip­ment, weapons, and trench life, to name but a few. Minor inaccuracies of dates, sequence, place names and the like are rare. Imag­ine if you will the effort of memory needed to de­scribe in this detail your own life of fifteen years ago.

 

If one looks at book dealers' lists, one will sometimes see Graves credited as the author of Old Soldiers Never Die; my fourth impression, 1936, has a mss note by the dealer "rewritten by Robert Graves", as if that added to the value. The evidence points to a lesser involvement. During Frank's more or less con­tinuous war service with the battalion, Robert Graves, a commis­sioned officer, came and went three times, and they re­spected and liked each other as much as the narrow military conventions of the time permitted. Frank Richards, although he could hardly afford the postage, sent Graves [by now an established author and poet] the manu­script and Robert found it 'magnificent al­though with repetitions and di­gressions'. Robert spent a couple of months 'sorting it out', and then wrote to Frank with ques­tions with a view to incorporating the an­swers. How the initial sorting out was done is not clear, but a typescript was produced which has no repetitions or digressions, and this typescript has been pre­served for posterity. It bears a good many manuscript cor­rections and addenda in Graves’s hand, the corrections being part of the nor­mal editorial process, the addenda probably as a result of Frank's answers to Graves's questions, all conducted by post. Graves had at least two sessions of intervention, one in pen, one in pencil.

 

Of the editorial interventions, there are a substantial number of new paragraph starts, a few commas, and many capitals added for Aid Post, Battalion and the like. Here also are insertions for which we should be very grateful, whereby Graves, ever the journalist and having asked the right questions, added a few men's names to the text. [It is possible that we owe Graves himself for some of the names, especially those of offi­cers]. Of place names, there is hardly a correction: in this, the phenomenal mem­ory was substantially correct. One other type of change was made, whereby Graves made Frank's writing a little more working class and outspoken. To change 'taken' to become 'took' is such a deliberate act, as also are the insertions of 'bloody', '****' and the like. Frank said that  " ….. he didn't half lick it into shape, better shape than I had it, to some order, and there it was launched". The evi­dence suggests that the original had at most four: Frank's manuscript, the first 'sorting' by Graves, the preserved typescript, and the annotated ver­sion of that, which appears to be the one that the printer worked from. As this latter is held in the Richards family, we may assume that Frank re­ceived it and approved it before publication.

 

It was an immediate success, and has been rarely, if ever, out of print since first published by Faber and Faber in 1933. So grate­ful was Frank that he of­fered to share the proceeds with Graves equally, but Robert said that one third would be fair, and this was written into the contract. The first pay­ment came just in time for Graves to secure his property at Deya on Mal­lorca. Without Graves the book might never have been published, he un­dertook the task of editor, but he certainly did not rewrite it. There are, of course, points of similarity to Graves's Goodbye to All That. The story of the trampled storeman dropping the rum issue is an obvious example, and there are others, and both men asserted somewhat airily that Richards pulled off a twenty-thou­sand to one chance in surviving the entire war unscathed. Old Soldier Sahib, which followed in 1936, would never have been written, let alone published, without Graves's promptings, and he considered it the better book of the two, again accepting a one third cut. It is an in­triguing account, hugely politically incorrect by today's stan­dards, of a soldier's life in India and Burma before the Great War. Both men admired each other greatly [Graves wrote "he was a natural genius and had the greatest measure of courage and honour I ever met in the Great War"] and they were to cor­respond frequently for the rest of Frank's life.

 

Frank Richards now had a permanent and pensionable job as a Cleri­cal Offi­cer, and the income from two successful books. His life changed for the better, he met King George VI and Princess Margaret at Foyles, and he could afford to indulge his passion for the horses, depart­ing for London from time to time with the then large sum of £60. Unfortu­nately, he had not improved his skills as a gambler, and usually returned home broke. He was generous to his friends, and was liberal in gi­ving away copies of his books, with careful inscriptions in block capitals to each. Blaina Grammar School was one such recipient.

 

Graves has it that Frank went to Somerset House in 1936 to dis­cover his parentage. This is true and Frank obtained a copy of his own Birth Certificate, dated May that year, and soon mar­ried Mary James, a green­grocer's assistant, in the autumn of 1937, at Dany­castle Methodist Chapel. The Marriage Certificate shows that he was economical with the truth regarding his age. They had their only child, daughter Margaret, in 1938 when he was 55 years old.

 

From his correspondence we know that they moved house often, always rented, al­ways in or within a short distance of Blaina. His daughter received a good education, became a schoolteacher, and married a solicitor. Her memories of Frank are very fond. Margaret recalls that he swore in mod­eration [cer­tainly com­pared with the oaths of the present day], was an atheist, but with strong moral principles and good habits, including daily exer­cises. He never talked down to anyone: "no-one is better than you – but you are no better than anyone" he would say to Mar­garet. A very pri­vate man, he was reticent to tell his own history, and never discussed problems nor gave advice unless asked. Frank was blessed with an excel­lent memory, well read, and a lover of opera and music. He wore polished boots, and every­thing had to be neat and well laid out 'as though for war'. Frank was very reticent about his war experiences, particularly in front of the women, but was happy to discuss a wide variety of issues over a tot and a pipe of tobacco with his son-in-law, having sent 'the women' to bed.

 

Some of his BBC interviews [monologues, more like] in 1956 are ac­cessible on the BBC web site and reveal a strong baritone, humorous and not overly Welsh. Frank Richards ex­changed friendly letters, full of political comment, literary criticism and news of mutual acquaintances, with Robert Graves almost to the end, at age sev­enty-eight, on 26th August 1961 at 8 Waen Ebbw, Nanty­glo. His body was cremated, his ashes are at Ponty­pridd Cre­matorium [despite musing that he would like them scattered on the Western Front, to be with his fallen friends], and that is where he and his wife are commemorated. With his books he achieved a kind of immortality.

 

Sources

 

The principal sources for the above are Frank Richards's two books and their Robert Graves Introductions/ Forewords in some editions, his daughter Mrs Margaret Holmes and his son-in-law Mr Robert Holmes, documents held by Mrs Holmes, and the General Record Office. Other material con­sulted includes the 1881 Cen­sus, Army Pay War­rants, Army Orders, King's Regulations, The War the Infantry Knew edited by Dr JC Dunn, BBC interviews in 1956 [internet] and 1954 [type­script], and an ac­count of an interview in 2003 by Mr Richard Donovan with Mrs Wedg­bury.

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Muerrisch

Followed by:

 

Frank Richards DCM MM: his early years, and the genesis of Old Soldier Sahib

 

My article in Stand To! issue Number  73 began:

 

On 11th June 1883 Mary Ann Woodruff informed the Registrar of New­port, Mon., of the birth of a boy, Francis Philip, on 7th April at Upper Ma­chen Farm, Machen, Mon. She gave her maiden name as Richards, and the father's name as Francis Au­gustus Woodruff, occupation Colliery Pro­prietor.

 

Since last year improved aids in tracing genealogy have become available, and there is much more that can be presented. There is no trace of a Woodruff/ Richards marriage. Baby Francis’s birthplace was in fact Ffwrwm, Upper Machen, not under his father’s family roof. Ffwrwm (meaning ‘bench’ or ‘form’ or ‘forum’) comprised a road of about 160 dwellings, including two public houses, and was the main road westwards out of Upper Machen. Mary Ann registered the birth herself two months later. Her parents, William and Martha Richards, had been living in Forge Row, Machen, on the 1871 census, (Mary Ann and her twin brother, said to be 13 years old, were both present) and in the next census of 1881 were living in an area called Tranllwn, Upper Machen (Mary Ann and her twin were absent). Tranllwn is listed next to the Ffwrwm entries in the census, which often indicates proximity. Mary Ann’s whereabouts on the 1881 census have not been definitively traced, except to state unequivocally that she was not a servant in either of the two Woodruff households. Mary’s parents may have moved to a house in Ffwrwm by the time of the birth in 1883: poor people were peripatetic, renting locally as their circumstances changed (indeed Frank himself moved house many times in the Blaina area as an adult).

 

Whether or not she was supported by Francis Augustus Woodruff, by some means or another she was parted from young Francis within a few years, because at the 1891 census he was an ‘inmate and scholar’ aged 8 at the Newport Union Industrial School, Caerleon. He is on the roll as Richards, proof that he was not then called Woodruff, and proof that he did not need subsequently to take his adoptive parents’ surname. The school, a branch of the Newport Poor Law Union,  had pupils as young as four years, and taught boys farming, gardening and tailoring as well as musical instruments. Girls were similarly stereotyped. It was a large establishment, with some 200 pupils under one Gilbert Harding, father of the man of the same name who was a television personality in the infancy of mass entertainment in Great Britain.

 

One further trace of Mary Ann Richards (a name shared with many others) has been found: the census of 1891 places her as a visitor to her twin brother John’s (born on 29th  September 1857) household in Gelligaer, a few miles from Machen. One wonders if she was in the process of asking John (his name was not Thomas, as FR called him) to take her son from his Industrial School: this happened in any case soon after.

 

In the meantime, Francis Augustus Woodruff had married in 1886 Elizabeth Waters, daughter of a deceased farmer, in Kensington, London. No immediate family signed as witnesses. His name appears to be unique in contemporary records. Francis Augustus had been christened at Machen on 6th January 1850. Subsequent census returns have him with his family (not, be it said, anything to do with a colliery, but his father was a ‘Tin Plate Manufacturer employing 200 men and 130 boys and girls’), and still in Machen in 1861, 1871 and 1881. There is no evidence that Francis Augustus ever had any closer connection to the coal industry than poking the fire, and indeed he married as a ‘Tin Plate Maker’. By 1891 he was living (that is, not listed as a visitor) with his sister and widowed mother in Bristol , ‘living on own means’. There is no mention of his wife Elizabeth. After this, there is no reliable trace of either husband or wife, or Mary Ann.

 

Our Francis Richards, according to his own account, went at the age of about 9 years to stay with his uncle. The 1891 and 1901 censuses locate that family readily enough, although John- cum-Thomas appears as  ‘Jno’ or Jonathan. The growing list of children and their birth years and birth places leave no room for misidentification. Francis is listed on the 1901 census as ‘son’ (one of many), a pleasing confirmation of his belief in his status in the family “No boy could have had better parents than what they were to me”. The youngest son was named Redvers Richards, a patriotic reference to General Redvers Buller of Boer War fame. Ironically, there is a strong possibility that Uncle John was working for Francis’s grandfather Woodruff, because he was indeed an ‘Iron sheet roller man’. Frank’s own brief experience with grease and brush, recounted in Old Soldier Sahib, might have brought him also into contact with the Woodruff family.

 

Poor Frank. No wonder he dismissed his life before the age of nine in two lines.

 

The Robert Graves assertion that Francis Woodruff was a ‘ne’er- do- well’ might have been based on something Frank Richards told him. Journalistic though Graves’s imagination proved to be, he might otherwise have struggled to make this up. Graves however fell for the belief that Woodruff had a colliery connection, and this might have come via Mary Ann’s statement on Frank’s birth certificate.

 

I believe that no original manuscript or typescript of Old Soldier Sahib has survived, in contrast to Old Soldiers Never Die, although an unmarked galley proof remains with his family. Whereas in my previous article I made a judgement on the degree of involvement of Robert Graves in preparing the latter for publication, there is less that can be said of this regarding OSS. (It is, by the way, totally respectable to refer to OSS and OSND. Frank did so habitually, although always punctuated and usually thus “O.S.S”). Graves, from his own evidence and from Frank’s,  seems to have acted again in the capacity of an editor and prompter, certainly not a ‘ghost writer’ and not a ‘re-writer’. Richards himself described the process as ‘collaboration’ in a letter of April 1944. Old Soldier Sahib was not a spontaneous piece, in that Richards would gladly have rested on his laurels and been a one-book author. The second book would never have been written, let alone published, without Graves's urging, and he too considered it the better book of the two, again accepting a one third cut of the proceeds.

 

Richards was glad to finish what Graves described in his Foreword as this “historical document, to be read with as much detachment as if it were an account of Caesar’s legionaries in Gaul, whose experience must have been much the same” . I have the impression that the Burma and final chapters are a little compressed,  as if he glimpsed the finishing line and wanted to move on. Well he might: he hated fountain pens, and often wrote using a pen holder with nib, which required frequent dipping in ink. In his own words: ”I shall feel ….... like adjourning to the nearest beer-fountain for a quart or two of purge to celebrate the conclusion of a very severe sentence that I innocently passed on myself”.

 

I gratefully acknowledge the help of my wife as genealogical guru, Mr Ian Abernethy, who wrote a seminal letter to ST! issue 74, and to Mr ‘Don’ Donovan who did valuable ground work in South Wales.

 

David Langley

 

Edited by Muerrisch

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Bernard_Lewis

Thank you for that comprehensive explanation, David. As I said, a very enjoyable read. 

 

Bernard

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Muerrisch

I also edited all of FR's letters to Robt Graves, held in the regimental archive. These were published in Stand To!.

 

I am struggling to find the result on the laptop. If there is demand, I will scan and post the edited letters here.

 

The quality and literacy and informed world view displayed is staggering, and indicts the outcome of some modern "schooling". FR was far from a stereotypical uneducated brave thicko.

 

His generation [includes my parents] learned a very great deal at school, however brief their schooling was.

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Muerrisch

I could not reproduce the illustrations but they are not central to the story

 

‘Dear Robert’: the letters from Frank Richards DCM MM to Robert Graves.

 

Frank Richards (henceforth FR) served in the 2nd battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers  (RWF) from 1901 to 1908, then went to the Reserve and was recalled to the Colours in August 1914 to fight throughout the Great War. His acquaintanceship and friendship with the poet and author Robert Graves (RG) was unconventional and was necessarily limited to mutual admiration whilst both were in uniform. Richards was a tough Welsh veteran who left a Poor Law school at 12 years of age, having been taught ‘farming, garden work and tailoring’. By contrast, Graves was the product of a good public school and the class system, such that he was commissioned into the elitist Special Reserve battalion RWF on the outbreak of war.  Graves arrived with 2nd RWF in 1915. In a battalion where a private soldier like Richards was not even allowed to associate with an acting unpaid lance-corporal, the military gulf between him and an officer was immense.

 

When in 1933 Richards began to scribble his account of the war in halfpenny notebooks, the likelihood of publication was slim, but he remembered Graves, by now famous and well-connected in literary circles, and found the courage and scraped together the cash to send the manuscript to him. RG was then living in Deya, Majorca with his current companion, Laura Riding. The wreckage of Robert’s marriage to Nancy Nicholson, and his children to date, remained in England.

 

This article is the first publication of the extensive correspondence that followed, using material from the archive of the Royal Welch Fusiliers Regimental Museum. It is one-way only, because when Richards died his widow destroyed many of his papers including the letters from Graves. Some of the material is mundane, always beginning ‘Dear Robert’ and usually ending with ‘wishing you and yours all the best’. The content often demonstrates substantial literacy, learning, culture, curiosity and geopolitical awareness. Richards’s handwriting was very legible, his letters were usually dated and headed with his current address; he moved house rather often, seemingly rented, except his last address which had been in his wife’s family for years. I have necessarily edited the contents and added some explanatory notes. Omitted material is indicated thus: …. and my interventions are in square brackets    [    ] thus. Frank was a perfectionist, and where an obvious error of omission has been found, I have been bold to remedy this. He varies in his rendering of dates, and I have standardised them.

 

 

14 Church Street, Blaina, Mon. 14th June 1936.

 

Figure 1. Frank Richards in the faked photograph

 

Thanks very much for American Press cuttings, they are very favourable indeed, do you want them back? I was highly amused at the faked photograph in ‘Time’, very cleverly done, but the tunic by the look of the collar badges must have either been one of an officer of the R.W.F. or one of the rank and file of the Grenadier Guards. [This undoubted fake, subsequently widely reproduced, is at Figure 1., but FR is not correct with his explanation. The only tunic (as opposed to the more loosely tailored and less ornate frocks) issued to him would have been fitted shortly after he ‘passed off the square’ and before he was drafted to India in 1902. At that time, the pattern had a round-fronted and slightly open fastening, and was closed by a leather tab and button. More noticeable was the position of the white piping (officially ‘braiding’), which was placed at the base of the dark blue collar. Because he served in India FR missed the revised collar pattern, approved by the Royal Army Clothing Department on 19th November 1901 but not issued until about a year later, whereby the braiding moved to the top of the collar. In its final form, reaching the regiment in 1912, the braiding reverted to the bottom, by which time FR was on the Reserve. The tunic used by ‘Time’ was probably authentic RWF other ranks but of the period 1902 to 1911, and FR would never have encountered one]. I agree 1000 copies is not bad, I thought by the letter I had from Harrison Smith that not a hundred had been sold. [It is not clear whether this refers to Old Soldiers Never Die, or Old Soldier Sahib: probably the latter, which had just been published. Frank habitually referred to the books as O.S.N.D. and O.S.S.]. Had a reply from Col. Henry, who was kind enough to enclose a letter from an old friend of his, a Major Hemple, to whom he had written for the true facts of the Lancers-Curzon story. [The revised story was never published in FR’s lifetime, but is an Appendix to the annotated and illustrated 2005 edition of Old Soldier Sahib]. Major Hemple puts me in mind of Mr Jingle in Pickwick Papers. …… We are having dammed rotten weather here, at the present moment it is raining like hell, and cold enough to freeze the entrails of a brass monkey.

 

12th July 1936.

I forgot to thank you in my last letter for a copy on demand of your next novel about a stamp. [This was Antigua, Penny, Puce, described by Phillip Larkin as ‘unique among novels’ for ‘its variety of original invention, not to mention its humour’]. I read your interesting letter in the Daily Telegraph dated 21/5/36. According to old Roman law there be may not be ground for a triumph, but if one is held Mussolini will take good care that it is awarded to him, he doesn’t seem the type of man that would like to play second fiddle, even for a day, to another man in Italy. Look at it which way you like, if Mussolini had not held the reins of power for so many years there would have been no conquest of Abyssinia, and the way he out-manoeuvred the League of Nations makes me think he is a disciple of the teachings of Machiavelli. Like we in India, Italy will have her troubles with tribal wars for some time to come, but once she has consolidated the country she will be looking for fresh fields to conquer. British East Africa to the south and Egypt on the west are rich plums worth fighting for, in my opinion’ it’s only a question of time before we will be at war with Italy over these plums. Wouldn’t mind

Figure 2. Church Street as it is today

 

betting that the majority of readers of the Daily News Chronicle and Daily Herald would much prefer to give the whole of the British Empire away than raise a finger in defence of it. …. Rather tough you having to turn Bobbajee [cook], I like cooking too, done quite a lot of it in my time, impossible to beat the French at cooking vegetables, they are not so proficient when they have to roast something. …. It should do you the world of good to see your children after such a length of time, if they inherit half of your ability they should get on very well in any profession they may take up. [Graves and his maturing children made several attempts at a reunion if not reconciliation around this time]. Women are queer mortals who want some understanding, there is something mysterious in their mental make up which no man yet has been able to fathom. [On 2nd August 1936, Graves and his entourage were forced to flee the Spanish Civil War in a British destroyer, and began a ten year exile from their home].

 

11th August 1936.

…….. I sincerely hope you and Miss Riding are none the worse for your adventures. …. Sometime next month I shall be entitled to a weeks leave, but if I can manage to get a few days off before then it will give me great pleasure to pop to London or wherever you are to see you. [FR was now reasonably placed financially: he had a steady clerical job, and royalties from both his books were arriving].

 

20th September 1936.

….. I shall probably arrive at Paddington station at 6PM on the 26th of September. [The meeting did indeed occur even though Graves was busily and pleasantly engaged with his sons David and Sam, and daughter Jenny was also in London There was much catching up to be done. The fact that RG did not put off the meeting demonstrates the warmth of their relationship. Whereas telephone communication was improbable, the telegram service was swift and efficient, and the visit could easily have been postponed].

 

11th October 1936.

I returned with a liver that a Strasbourg goose would envy. It was more the whisky I drank than the food I ate that caused my liver to enlarge a little, I don’t blame the olive for the trouble. Each night I met excellent company and it was generally at 4 AM that we retired to bed. …. Give my kind regards to Miss Riding, it was a pleasure to meet such a charming little lady. [This is probably not the view of many of her acquaintance: she was, to be charitable, a difficult and troubled personality. As to what she thought of FR!].

 

25th October 1936.

Thanks very much for copy of Antigua, Penny, Puce. I have read and thoroughly enjoyed it and had a good laugh over certain pages. ….Page 122, 3 lines from bottom: ‘his heart was so bad hat the might die’. [And several other comments, some of which refer to style rather than misprint: a rare example of rôle-reversal between FR and Graves].

 

5th November 1936.

I sincerely hope you are rid of your boils, as I know from experience they are dammed [this spelling is habitual] painful especially on that part of the body. A good job Korda called on you when he did, otherwise the German scenario writer would have introduced maxim guns, heavy artillery, and Christ knows what into the film. He deserves the sack if for only introducing the telescope. [Graves had sold the film rights of I, Claudius to Alexander Korda, and was working on ‘the book of the film’. The screenplay was not used, nor was one for the life of TE Lawrence]. The King may be very fond of Wallis, but I can never bring myself to believe that he would abdicate if the Cabinet objected to the marriage. [This refers to the liaison between King Edward VIII and Mrs Wallis Simpson. In this respect, FR was spectacularly wrong].

 

15th November 1936.

I received a cheque and royalty statement from Random House [Faber and Faber, Frank’s publisher], I expect you received the same. I am more than satisfied with the sales, very nearly 500 copies a month is not so bad, don’t you think so? O.S.S. is second on the list of books in active demand. [To reflect Graves’s editorial contribution and his help in publishing, FR had offered Graves half the royalties on Old Soldiers Never Die, but RG refused although, needing the money, said he would be grateful for one third. This arrangement was continued for Old Soldier Sahib, which is the book referred to here].

The King will be passing through Blaina next Thursday. The last time I can remember seeing him was, I think, at Buire on the Somme in November 1916, when he dined at our Officers’ Mess. [November 10th, and the meal was tea only].

 

22nd November 1936.

I can assure you that the King [Edward VIII] had a wonderful reception when passing through Blaina, which during the war was called Little Moscow. He made a halt of fifteen minutes outside the Council Offices, where he inspected a dozen unemployed men, he had a talk with several of them, and after shaking hands with them, congratulated and shook hands with two ex-service men who had won decorations during the war. The local Councillors were as enthusiastic over the King’s visit as the staunchest of imperialists, not many years ago they were shouting on pit heads and street corners ‘To hell with all the royal family, aristocrats and capitalists’, in fact ‘To hell’ with anyone who possessed sixpence more than themselves. They have proved themselves true disciples of Ramsay MacDonald, who in my opinion is the biggest hypocrite and political turncoat the country has ever known. Through working at Brynmawr Labour Exchange I was unable to be on parade at Blaina, but the whole of our staff turned out in full war paint to line a part of the road as the King passed through Brynmawr, where arrangements had been made for him to halt for a few minutes. Through some balls up or another no halt was made, and when the King halted at Blaina he was under the impression that he was at Brynmawr. I caught a fleeting glance of him as he passed by me, and he looked remarkably fit. If Mrs Simpson was not a divorced woman he would have an excellent chance of making her his Queen, as she is, I don’t think he has a dog’s chance of doing so. …. The King is more popular with the people than any of his brothers or ministers, and I have been told before that he is more of a man than any of his brothers.

 

14th January 1937.

…. Everyone I have met who listened in to my broadcast, said that it was fine, and that my voice was very natural. What pleased me more than anything was a telegram of congratulations from an old friend of mine living at Dorking (The Architect in O.S.N.D.) as I had not told him I was on the air. [We know nothing of content, thus far no recording has been traced]. …. I might be able to arrange it to see you before you leave the country, will let you know later. [Apparently not].

 

 

9th May 1937.

The Italian troops in Spain are on a par with the Portuguese troops that served in France, perhaps they thought they were going to have a cake-walk like they had in Abyssinia, where they were never really tested. For both of your sakes, I hope the government forces will in a short space of time be victorious, but in my opinion it is still an even money chance on either side being victors. A ghastly affair the destruction of Guernica. If its true that German planes did this dirty work, I can only come to the conclusion that Germany were giving a real try out for the bombs they are going to use in their next war. …. I still think Old Soldier Sahib is a better book than O.S.N.D. but the majority of people I have spoken to who have read both books don’t agree with me. …. I have read several reviews on ‘A Trojan ending’, the one in John o’ London’s Weekly is very good. I agree with the phrase which is mentioned in this review “a man needs to be close to women, or else he becomes vague and homeless”, but its only in the last few years that I have realised this. The whole of the country is Coronation mad. [This was of King George VI, three days later].  I myself would much prefer to be present at the wedding of the Duke of Windsor and Mrs Simpson than at the crowning of the King and Queen in the Abbey.

 

8 Waen Ebbw, Nantyglo, 26th September 1937.

…….. I forgot to thank you for cutting re. McShane’s death. A very worthy Father indeed, both in war and peace, and on a par with Dr Dunn as regards his coolness under shell fire. [RC Chaplain Father McShane received favourable comment both by Graves and by Dunn in their respective books, but none by Richards]. ‘Whom the gods love they take young’, if there is a grain of truth in this I expect that rum-guzzling old C/E parson of our old bn. during the war is very pleased they did not love him. …. I must be a queer cuss, especially for an uneducated man, as I enjoy reading something that doesn’t appeal to a lot of educated people I know. [This on being sent a review copy of ‘In Parenthesis’ by David Jones which he said he struggled with at first, and then really enjoyed]. …. Spent a week’s leave last May in a quiet village in Herefordshire, stayed with a chap called Pat Amos who is a brother of Sgt Major Pattison of B Coy who was blown up in a mine at Givenchy in 1916. [This was Red Dragon, 22nd June, the largest German mine of the war. The battalion suffered grievous casualties, including the highly-regarded Pattison, but ejected the enemy, stabilised the line and had a satisfactory revenge soon afterwards]. Note the new address, which is more convenient for my work.

 

 

15th January 1939.

…….. During the last six weeks I have been troubled with a nasty carbuncle on my left arm. Hope they are not going to make an annual appearance. The family are in the pink. [By now, Frank had a daughter, Margaret, his only child]… My job is now more or less permanent, so I have something to be thankful for. …. I see you were in the running again for the Nobel Prize for Literature, well better luck next time. …. The Munich Pact was only a breathing spell, I still believe a European war will break out, and at any moment during the next eighteen months. …. Dr Dunn sent me a copy of his war book ‘The War the Infantry Knew’, [an acknowledged classic account of 2nd RWF’s Great War] mostly compiled from officers’ diaries, jotted down either on the actual day, or some days later. I strongly suspect that at least two of the diaries were written some considerable time after the actual dates. [The keeping of diaries, absolutely forbidden, was surprisingly common in an officer corps born and trained to obedience]. In my opinion Dunn has done his job very well, the high command and staff will not like the book, and if General Hunter Weston is still alive he will be after Dunn’s blood. There are two sly digs at you, which I think you can afford to laugh at. …. I gave Dunn two incidents which I did not include in O.S.N.D., and asked if he intended to put the book on the market. In his reply he said he had never heard talk of the incidents before, and that his intention had only been to put the book in the Depôt. But he had been strongly advised to put the book on the market, which he did, and it was selling well, at 21/-. [500 copies were printed. The two incidents are lost to us, alas].

 

Section  1. end……………………………………………………………………………………

 

17th April 1941, 27 Hatter Street, Brynmawr, Brecon.

I have no idea where you are residing at the present, but where ever you are, I hope that you and Miss Riding are in the pink [Maybe in the pink, but long separated. The intervening years had seen much wandering, including Switzerland and the USA, and the relationship, increasingly fragile, foundered on the rocks of Laura’s erratic infidelity in the summer of 1939. Graves, rarely without a muse, had found the woman, Beryl Hodge, who was the prop for the remainder of his long life. Beryl had borne RG a child, and David, RG’s eldest son, had been commissioned into the Royal Welch Fusiliers. Robert, now returned to England, had himself volunteered for the Officers  Emergency Reserve on the outbreak of war, but was never called upon to serve again other than in a desk job which he scorned].  This is the third letter I have written you since the grand slam commenced, the other two I have burned, would have taken a chance and posted them if I had been a single man [cryptic indeed: one senses that the letters were outspoken in the extreme about the war, and that the hand of the censor was feared]. Thanks very much for copy of Proceed Sergeant Lamb ……. Which I enjoyed very much. …… CSM Fox of A Company who finished the war as a captain (you should remember him very well) is about the only one I would put in Lamb’s class. ….. The only set-back the jerries have had was their air attack on this country …… the allied commanders in France were just about as capable as Gussie Garnett [Lt Col William Brooksbank Garnett was a regular officer who commanded 2nd RWF for about six months, and who attracted unfavourable comment from Richards, Graves and Dunn in their respective memoirs].

……. During the battle of France the Germans should have had at least half a million casualties and half their tanks knocked out, if it is correct what I have read, they had only about five thousand casualties. “Soldiers I’ve **** ‘em!” …. I would much rather be a dead cock than living under Hitler’s heel. We are now paying the price for trying to retain by the pen what we have won by the sword. …… I am still striving at the labour exchange, no bombs have fallen on this place. How are your two sons [David and Sam]  getting on, delighted when I heard of your daughter’s [Jenny] success at the BBC ….. at the time I thought about dropping her a line of congratulations, but did not have enough courage to do so.

 

Undated. [from context after mid-December 1941].

The German troops who took part in the Crete affair are entitled to full marks for what they accomplished, but it has left a nasty taste in the mouth of any old soldier of my time who is still kicking on this ball of clay. According to a casualty list of ours given out some time ago our total land casualties were about 100,000, of which roughly 70,000 were prisoners. The majority of these prisoners must have evidently been possessed of a different fighting spirit than the men of the 2nd RWF in 1914. [The battalion had been fortunate in that it was brought up to war establishment in early August 1914 by Regular Reservists, i.e. professional time-serving soldiers. By contrast the 1st battalion, arriving in England from Malta after 2nd RWF had snapped up these priceless assets, was out of necessity forced to use a considerable number of Special Reservists to make up numbers. Whereas the 2nd battalion withstood the rigours of war and weather in the first year, the 1st battalion, admittedly more sorely tried, lost many prisoners. Perhaps the matter should not be pressed too far].  …. Your name has been much in the news of late, your three appearances with ‘The Brains Trust’, and the phrase and tips Churchill derived from ‘Count Belisarius’. [This is somewhat obscure: there was indeed a Graves-Churchill connection before the war, Sarah Churchill and Jenny had performed together in the West End, and Churchill had consulted Graves on Spanish matters. Winston Churchill, on reading the book, is reputed to have told Graves he couldn’t write a dull sentence].

 

15th May 1942. [There appears to be a letter in the series missing here].

I think it a damned shame that a soldier, especially on active service, should be paid about 2/- per day, while civilian workers, some of whom are only taking messages from one part of a factory to another, or making tea, should receive 20/- per day or more. Since the Singapore surrender I have very nearly been ashamed to admit that I was once a British soldier. ….. A grand country Burma, a country well worth fighting for. The Burmese will find to their sorrow that the jap will be a harder taskmaster than ever we were. The majority of the people of India would offer no resistance [to the Japanese], they would far more likely help them all they could. ….. I wasn’t surprised at their treatment of British prisoners, most eastern races would take a fiendish delight in treating the whole of the white race in the same way. …. [Your son]  David can truthfully say of the two books he has bought, that his father collaborated with good effect with the Author in writing.

 

21st February 1943.

Last July F & F [Faber and Faber, publisher of O.S.N.D. and O.S.S.] sent me a proof copy of the cheap edition of O.S.N.D. asking me to correct printers’ errors etc., some of which they had done themselves. …… I found a number of printers’ errors that F&F had missed, made dozens of corrections of my own, such as ‘did’ for ‘done’ ‘was’ for ‘were’ or vice versa, and substituted ‘lying’ for ’laying’ a number of times. I can assure you that by the time I had finished quite a number of pages were marked enough to make the good printers weep tons of blood. [This gives an extraordinary insight into the creation of O.S.N.D.. One wonders which version FR was now using as his ‘master copy’, because the only version preserved by his family is typescript, not manuscript, clearly is not the original scribbled in candle light in a halfpenny notebook, and is annotated in RG’s handwriting giving several examples of ‘dumbing down’ FR’s use of English, much as Richards later took pains to undo as described here]. I pointed out that with the exception of their own errors the printers had faithfully followed the original copy, and that you and F Morley had decided not to alter the ‘did’ for ‘dones’ etc. Also mentioned that, since I had written O.S.N.D. my English had either got better or worse, by the number of corrections I had made. [We shall probably never know how ‘Welsh Working Class’ Frank’s dialect and use of English was, but he is here pointing up a conflict between the published versions and his own authorial ‘voice’] . ….. The Dieppe raid, with the exception of the naval part, was a real old fashioned British balls up, to say it was a raid is pure bullshit. [Here follows a detailed analysis of current affairs, a prediction that the seeds of a future war could be sown by the post-war differences between Russia and the USA/ British positions, a forecast of the creation of the Warsaw Pact, and a belief that severe austerity would prevail for years to come] . Is David still in Madagascar, [the 2nd Battalion were in Madagascar – David was in the 1st] or with his Bn. in some other theatre of war, may the goddess of luck be with him always, wherever he is.

 

11th June 1943.

Dear Robert, an old friend of mine sent me a cutting from the Daily Telegraph dated 2nd June 1943, and it gave me a bit of a shock when I read that David had been reported missing believed killed in Burma. To take a Japanese strong-point single-handed as he did, is a feat equal to any that has been done in this war or the last, and unlike the Germans and Italians, the little yellow ******** fight to the last man. Quite a number of men in this war, and the last war who were reported missing believed killed, were afterwards reported as prisoners of war, and there is a chance that he was taken prisoner. Although I had never met David I had a kind of a feeling towards him that I cannot very well explain, and I shall be as pleased as anyone, when I hear that he is still alive and well on this ball of clay. Yours ever Frank. [According to his commanding officer, “Lt David Graves advanced on the first enemy post. With the Bren gunner giving covering fire Lt Graves bombed his way into the position. During this period the Sergeant and the Bren gunner were wounded and put out of action. Quite undeterred, Lt Graves coolly returned for a further supply of grenades, and going out again over completely open ground swept by enemy fire, proceeded to carry out a lone attack on the next post from which the enemy had been throwing large numbers of grenades. This post Lt Graves took with a fearless charge, and was seen to be continuing his advance when he was shot”. The battalion with whom David served in B Company withdrew the next day with losses of 13 officers and 162 other ranks killed, wounded or missing. There was to be no decoration, despite a recommendation for a decoration. Accounts vary: either a DSO or a VC, the latter is probably correct, as the DSO can not be awarded posthumously. He was, however, Mentioned in Despatches. David’s loss was a grievous blow to his family and his father, who more than once wrote in private correspondence that “The only organisation I have ever been proud to belong to was The Regiment”] .

 

 

14th October 1943.

Figure 1. Lt-Col CI Stockwell commanding  1st Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers.

 

…….. I will give you an example of Captain, later Brigadier, CI Stockwell’s inhuman discipline which I don’t think I ever told you. During the latter end of Nov. 1914 we did one turn in some trenches which were on the right of the Houplines trenches we occupied later, and A Coy’s trench was about 600 yards from the enemy’s trench. One night my platoon went out for 24 hours rest, with us was the battalion machine gun sergeant, Tommy Edwin, one of the most popular and efficient NCOs in the Bn. During the 24 hours some of us drank more looted champagne than was good for us, and Edwin in addition had drank a lot of rum as well. By the time we arrived back in the trench he was a shouting raving madman, we did our best to quiet him, but it was a hopeless task. Attracted by the shouting, Stockwell arrived on the scene, and told Edwin that if he did not stop shouting he would have him tied up on the ruddy wire in front for 2 hours. This threat only made Edwin curse and shout all the more, so Stockwell ordered an NCO and 3 men to manhandle him over the parapet and tie him on the wire and leave him there until he gave the order to bring him back in the trench. Stockwell went with the party to supervise the tying up, heavy snow was falling at the time. After being tied up Edwin continued to shout and rave for about half an hour, then he became silent just after an enemy machine gun had traversed our front, which it did occasionally throughout the night. Enemy sentries were occasionally firing 5 rounds rapid at our front, but Stockwell left him there for the 2 hours before he gave orders to bring him back in the trench. We were all very pleased that he had not been hit or frozen to death, I expect the rum had saved him from the latter fate. He had a hazy recollection of what had happened, and said that he must have gone to sleep, because he had not long been awake when the men brought him back. He was later court-martialled, sentenced to be reduced to the ranks, and 6 months imprisonment. After serving about 2 months of his imprisonment, he was released, and rejoined the Bn. in the Bois Grenier sector. He was immediately made full corporal, and on the first day he was back again in a front line trench he was killed by shell fire. [Sergeant Thomas Edwin was killed in action 13th June 1915 and is buried as a sergeant at Bois Grenier. He had served with Richards in India, and landed in France on the 11th August 1914].

 

 

23rd April 1944, 3 Woodland Terrace, Nantyglo, Mon.

 

I take it that the last statement of accounts from F&F re. O.S.N.D. and O.S.S. is the final one. Both books, especially O.S.N.D., have had a good very run, and I am more than satisfied with the shekels I have received from them [apparently the contract was finite, and FR expected no more income regarding future printings or sales. If this was true, he missed a great deal, and both books continue to have an expanding sale and readership]. Without your collaboration I doubt if ever the books would have seen the light of day [certainly O.S.S. would not, as it was written on RG’s prompting] . I had always thought it very unfair when reading reviews of the books that I was given all the credit and your name not even mentioned, but it was your wish that your name should be kept in the background. After reading O.S.S. again, I still think if we had confined it to soldiering alone, with brief notes that led up to enlistment, and time spent on reserve, it would have suited the tastes of readers better. [Clearly there had been disagreement and RG had prevailed].

 

 

29th December 1944.

What a to do on the Western Front. Must award full military marks to von Rundstedt, but can’t make out for the life of me how he was able to concentrate such a large force, especially Panzers, without we knowing about it. [This is a reference to the German Ardennes offensive, extremely successful in the first instance] ……If a Republican Govt. gets back in Spain, will you be able to return to Majorca and claim your estate there?

 

15th April 1945.

The war is going well in Burma, two Bns of the old regt. are doing their stuff there, and old familiar places are well in the news. [FR spent a happy period soldiering in Burma before going to the Reserve] . The jerries are about finished, if ever they intended to use gas they have left it too late, I think. [Throughout the war there had been a great worry that poison gas would be used indiscriminately. Not only were the military equipped with respirators, but the entire population] . ……. Received a letter from the renowned, still Sergeant, Bill Townshend ……. He is a tough old bird, I should have liked to have heard his remarks when being drilled by numbers, also what he told the Drill Sgt and officers of what he had been and etc. I’ll bet that he never told them how he was shot through the **** when erecting barbed wire at Bois Grenier. [Sgt W Townshend or Townsend, probably number 9020, battalion middleweight boxing champion and all-India finalist pre-Great War, ex-Metropolitan Police. Mentioned by both Dunn and RG in their books, and by FR in O.S.N.D.. We infer that Townshend served in uniform, perhaps Home Guard, in World War II].

 

Part 2 end……………………………………………………………………………….

 

22nd May 1945.

……. I blushed at your reference to myself in ….. [an article on the origin of the soubriquet ‘Tommy Atkins’ for the British soldier in Lilliput of February 1945]. and agree that after a lapse of 30 years or more it is very nearly impossible to remember the names of men, even in one’s section. Tottie Fahy I do remember in a way, but for the life of me I cannot remember whether it was in India, Burma or France that I met him. [It was France at least, and, as Fahy or Fahey had a regimental number fairly close to FR, they might well have served together, but in different companies, for years. Fahy, RG’s batman, is the subject of an anecdote in ‘Goodbye to All That’ in which Fahy is subjected to Field Punishment Number One]. ….. Quite a lot of talk around here of the coming war with Russia, I don’t think so myself, but think that in another 15 or twenty years time, Russia will be strong enough, if so inclined, to dictate to the whole of Europe. [Interesting that the war in Europe had just been won, cause for rejoicing, and yet there is an air of gloom in this letter].

 

23rd December 1945.

………. Some time ago I commenced to take the Sunday Despatch and since then I have been an interested reader of the weekly article by Jenny Nicholson – your daughter, I think. If she is [she was, and had become a journalist after a show-business beginning]  you should be proud of her, she has indeed inherited quite a lot of your literary gifts. ….. The Old World is in a hell of a mess, and will be I suppose until the next Grand Slam when the Atomic Wallahs get to work.

 

4th October 1946.

[This is an atypically long time after the previous letter, there may be one or more missing]  After reading Jenny’s article in the Sunday Dispatch in which she mentions that she was on her way to the Balearic Isles, I naturally came to the conclusion that she was going there to see for herself how things were at your old place. [She did, and was well received there and reported to RG favourably]. Rather surprised but pleased to read in her article last Sunday that you were back in Deya, and I sincerely hope in full possession of your estate again. ….. The latest 11d beer here is about the nearest approach to horse piss that has been brewed in this island of ours. ….. My little girl Margaret who was 8 last May is now in Standard 3, elementary school, she is very self-willed and in my opinion spoilt by her mother.

 

 

11th January 1947.

…. Delighted to hear that your property was in first class condition, I dare say it was more than you expected. ….[this next refers to RG’s ‘King Jesus’] . The Heads of the churches haven’t much to quibble about, unless it is the parentage of Jesus, his marriage and booze-up with his disciples in the clubhouse, and depicting Judas to be the only true disciple among the twelve. [FR was not a believer, but had a lively interest in Christianity].

 

4th April 1948.

…. Much has happened in the last 12 months, the international situation is very bad, and we are in such an economic jam that for the life of me I cannot see how we are going to get out of it. …. Sorry to disappoint you, but I will not tackle that book on the mines: ten years ago, with your assistance, I am vain enough to think that I could have written such a book, and made a very good job of it too. [A sad loss to posterity as FR was a coal miner before enlisting, and whilst on the Reserve before the Great War. Another reference to this project was made in 1956] . …. When I commenced work in the Min. of Labour, July 1933, I was a few months over pensionable age, after 6 years as a temporary clerk I became established in May 1939, without pension. Under a new scheme any man established without pension who had 10 years established service, temporary service to count half, would qualify for a pension. Early last year I was notified that I had qualified for a pension, and a few months later, with regret etc, sent a notice that owing to my age I would be retired on the 17th August 1947. I believe that thousands of men over 62 or 63 were retired at the same time, a cut in the civil service they called it. I was awarded a pension of 15/1- [£19 in current values] a week, and a lump sum of £118 odd [almost £3000]. So for sitting on my bloody backside [very appropriate: FR suffered from haemorrhoids exacerbated by trench duty, and received inadequate treatment and a meagre and temporary pension after the war] in peace, security and comfort I am given a pension: for more service as a professional soldier in bad foreign stations and war, I was awarded sweet FA. To me there is no logic in this, unless it is the evolution of social security. For 4 months I did no work, studied horse racing quite a lot, and football pools, signed the register twice a week, drawing my unemployment benefit of £2..5..0d a week on Fridays. On my last day at the office I was pay clerk, the following week I was the other side of the counter being paid myself. I couldn’t help bursting out laughing at the reversal of the roles. On the 7th January this year I was sent for to commence work as a temporary clerk at my old Labour Exchange, told it might be a week’s work or two, that week or two has lasted 3 months, and I am still going strong. I shall be 65 on the 7th of this month, will draw my first old age pension of 10/- on the 8th. So what with one thing and another, I have no cause to grumble.

 

 

1st February 1951, 58 Waun Ebbw, Nantyglo.

[There is a deterioration in the handwriting compared with the previous letter]  …. A week today I caught the new flu I feel a little better today but a little bit groggy. It is a nasty kind of flu, the locals call it ‘the walking pneumonia’ A week before Xmas I moved from the house in the wood to this one. This one is quite large enough for us three, and less than half the rent of the old one. My daughter Margaret, who will be 13 next May, has now been attending the Grammar School here for 18 months. Up to the present she has in my opinion done very well ….. She is still very much spoilt by her mother.

 

23rd March 1953.

[Handwriting more or less back to normal]. Over two years have passed since I received your last letter, I deserve a severe rep for this late reply. …. My health has not been so good this last year or two, commenced with fluid on the knee, then fibrositis in both legs, then severe internal pains which used to last about two hours or more about twice a day. Saw a specialist, had two X rays, they revealed nothing wrong, that bucked me up ten holes. The specialist told me that in his opinion my pains had been caused by flu in the stomach, and that my heart was good enough to last a good many years. Those pains left me before Xmas and I am now eating like a hungry gutted recruit at the depot. Don’t think I mentioned in my last letter that my re-engagement as a Temporary Clerk in the Min of Labour lasted 2 years and 2 months, quite a lucky break for me. It also increased my Civil Service pension slightly, which with a further increase last year brought it up to £1..4..7d. During the last 2 years I have had 2 temporary jobs, both lasting about 6 weeks, and a couple of days clerical work. My body is still strong enough to do manual work, but my legs would not stand up to it. My good wife has now been working over two years, she is in charge of the canteen at a coat factory in Brynmawr. So what with one thing and another we are rubbing along pretty decently. I now pass the time doing a lot of household work, and the cooking, the wife does the washing at week ends. I still enjoy my smoke, an occasional pint or two during the week with a good drink on Saturday and an occasional flutter on the Turf. …. She [Margaret] is a very strong willed girl and will not listen to any advice from me. One thing I am thankful for she has a good sense of humour.

 

27th July 1954.

Thank you for your last letter, you are indeed a good friend. No, I did not bank on O.S.S. being filmed, as you truly remarked the film industry is in queer street. TV, I think, is the main cause of the trouble. To me the 14-18 war is like a childhood memory, revived only when I meet an old soldier of my day, but I will have to refresh my memory in the light of the following: rather surprised to receive a letter from Marguerite Scott, Talks Dept BBC London, in which she said she was proposing a programme about the first months of the 14-18 war, and that she would like to come and have a talk with me about the broadcast ….. told M Scott that I did not want to go to London for the broadcast, she then said that she would bring along to my house a recording machine for my recollections of those early months. …. Received an invitation to attend the ceremony of presenting new colours to the RWF Bns. by the Queen, I replied that I greatly regretted I was unable to attend. [This was the presentation of new colours to the 1st, 2nd and 4th Battalions at Wroughton, Wiltshire on 23 July 1954].

 

23rd September 1954.

Glad that you were able to listen in to the broadcast, thanks for your complimentary remarks and for recommending me to the BBC …. Was surprised that they gave me about 25 minutes, was more surprised when I received my fee £25 plus £1..5..0 expenses. I happened to mention to M Scott that the only copy I had of O.S.N.D. was a tattered one of the Q series, when Boyd was told this he generously sent me as a gift his own review copy, on the flyleaf he wrote “Returned to Frank Richards, forty years after these events August 4th 1954, gratefully, Donald Boyd.”

 

22nd October 1954.

I listened to your broadcast on Wednesday, through no fault of my own I missed the first few minutes of it. Although another station kept breaking in, your voice was quite clear and distinct, quite a pleasure for me to hear it again.

 

 

 

27th November 1955.

About a month ago in The Sunday Times I read a very interesting article on your life and work in Majorca. The amount of work you do is beyond my understanding. …. Next September, all being well, Margaret will enter College, and her choice from 3 or 4 of them is University of London, Goldsmiths College, New Cross, SE 14. Last week she attended this college for an interview and she will now have to wait to know whether she will be accepted or not. A few days ago I was told that this college is one of the best in England, but that Margaret would have little chance of being accepted unless she was backed by some person of influence. I am wondering whether a line from you to this college would give her a better chance of acceptance. As you don’t know her I think it unfair on my part to ask you to do this: I can only tell you that it requires a Prussian sergeant major to control her in the house, but outsiders all say that she is a most likeable young person, even the interviewer at the college told her that. …. The Lord High Priest of Morals, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is in my opinion the Arch Hypocrite of England, by the look of him he is a strong supporter of the Flesh Pots of Egypt. What a bloody scream it all is. [Geoffrey Fisher is the recipient of this scorn. His appointment was controversial. FR may have known that he was a prominent Freemason, which, as he disliked them, may have had something to do with the matter]. If anything does turn up re. filming of O.S.S., you would be far more able than me to conduct the negotiations that took place.

 

 

 

6th December 1955.

Thank you very much for your kind offer, her full Christian names are Margaret Letitia. [Clearly RG had agreed to attempt to further Margaret’s cause with Goldsmiths]. ….  By the look of you Majorca seems to have done you the world of good, you are many stones heavier now than when you joined the old 2nd RWF in 1915.

 

 

20th January 1956.

Just a line to let you know that Margaret was informed by the Colleges’ Clearing House that she had not been accepted for Goldsmiths.

 

20th May 1956.

Margaret has now been accepted as a student at Crewe College, commences her studies next September. On the 1st of Feb. I accompanied her for her interview, both of us rather liked the college which is for young ladies only. …. Yes it was 2 or three years ago that you asked me to have a pop at a book on life, manner, morals etc in a mining village of 60 years ago. I think I told you that before I was married I could have got down to it, and with your collaboration made a good job of it too. I’m sorry to disappoint you but I’m afraid I shall never be able to get down to write such a book now. Received a letter from Mrs Cutforth (formerly Miss M Scott) asking if I would take part in a Battle of the Somme programme to be broadcasted on July 1 ….. I’m afraid my stories of the Somme, if I can remember them correctly, would be mostly horrible.

 

24th July 1956, 8 Waun Ebbw, Nantyglo, [a return to this house].

Would have written earlier had I not been busy moving to the above address. Well the Somme broadcast is over, and to quite candid a lot of people around here did not think a lot of it, they wanted more blood I think. I gave the Cutforths plenty of blood but not one incident was put over on the broadcast. …. The following day they recorded a brief sketch of my life, with one of those colds which affect the throat at times I was not in good condition for recording but I said nothing to them about it. …. Of course they wanted the low down of how O.S.N.D. and O.S.S. was written and published, I sincerely hope my version of that will meet with your approval. The Mrs and Margaret also recorded for about 5 minutes each I left the house when they were doing their stuff.

 

20th August 1956.

Just a line to let you know I shall be on the Air under the title of “Six People –Frank Richards” on Sunday 26th August. Sent me the recorded script [this is still preserved].

 

10th September 1956.

…. By the look of things we are rapidly turning into a 3rd class state, the TUC and workers (although they are perhaps not aware of it) are doing their damnedest to make us into one.

 

9th December 1956.

More than pleased you liked the script, I was no more generous to you than you were to me, you did a hell of a lot more than I could put in words in my talk. Yes I remember your difficulty with the house purchase at the time of O.S.N.D.. I think, in some mysterious way, we have been good luck to each other. [The first royalties, one third of which went to RG, helped at a crucial time]. …. What a glorious balls up we made over the Suez job, if Sir Hugh Stockwell is anything like his uncle he must be spitting blacking. …. A young man who served in the occupation of Germany [after the war] told me Stocky [CI Stockwell] then commanded the Bn, and in the Bn served a young 2nd Lt, a nephew of Stocky. This man told me that one morning when there was nothing on in particular young Stockwell called out to his uncle who was passing near him “Oh I say uncle” but he did not complete his sentence. Old Stocky roared at him (and there were quite a number of men around to hear him) “Damn you, don’t you ever address me as uncle again or by God you will rue the day if you do!”

 

 

 

9th December 1957.

…. I sincerely hope that your American lecture tour will be a very successful one in every way. [It was an enormous artistic and financial success, and marked a turning point].

 

8th February 1959.

I see that you have been the guest of the Israeli Govt., and that you are going to write a biblical musical. …. I suffer hell with this neuritis in my foot and leg which prevents me walking any distance, but I can’t grumble there are millions worse off.

 

[Frank Richards DCM, MM died at home on the 26th August 1961 and his remains were cremated. He was 78 years of age].

 

Acknowledgements.

My thanks go to The Curator and Trustees, Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum, for permission to quote from the letters, now in their custody, and to use the photographs other than those specifically acknowledged below. Also to Frank’s daughter Margaret, for much in the way of personal anecdote. My special thanks to Messrs R Donovan and G Jones, who visited Frank’s home area on my behalf, took photographs, and conducted interviews. Figures X and Y are the result of their research. Lt Col. R Sinnett RWF [Retired] kindly read a late draft and made valuable suggestions.

Bibliography.

 

 

Dunn, JC                                      The War the Infantry Knew, P. S. King & Son, London, 1938

 

Graves, R von R                          Goodbye to All That, J Cape London 1929.

 

Graves, Richard Perceval         Robert Graves, The Assault Heroic,  Weidenfeld and Nicholson London 1986

Robert Graves, the Years with Laura Riding, Weidenfeld and Nicholson London 1990

Robert Graves and the White Goddess, Weidenfeld and Nicholson London 1995

                                                     

Langley, D E                               Duty Done: 2nd Battalion The Royal Welch Fusiliers in the Great War, RWF Museum, 2002. together with articles on Frank Richards in Stand To! numbers 73 and 76

Richards F, annotated by Krijnen and Langley

                                    Old Soldiers Never Die, published Krijnen and Langley, 2004.

 

Richards F, annotated by Krijnen and Langley

 

                                    Old Soldier Sahib, published Krijnen and Langley, 2005

 

© DE Langley, Baston, 2008

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